La Stampa reporter Quirico. (AP/Lino Azzopardi)

European outlets report journalists missing in Syria

New York, April 30, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the well-being of two European journalists who went missing in western Syria three weeks ago. News reports identified the journalists as Domenico Quirico, a veteran reporter for the Italian daily La Stampa, and Pierre Piccinin da Prata, a Belgian academic and freelance writer, although the accounts did not say if the two were traveling together.

La Stampa reporter Quirico. (AP/Lino Azzopardi)
La Stampa reporter Quirico. (AP/Lino Azzopardi)

La Stampa reported on Monday that Quirico had not been heard from since April 9. The paper said that Quirico entered Syria from Lebanon on April 6 to cover events around the western city of Homs. The area between the Lebanese border and Homs has witnessed intense fighting recently, as regime forces supported by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters attempt to capture the rebel stronghold of al-Qusair, news reports said.

La Stampa’s report said that Quirico last contacted his wife on April 8 and sent a text message to a journalist for the Italian public broadcaster RAI on the following day. The text message was the last known communication from the journalist.

Quirico has covered international unrest in countries such as Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and Mali. According to La Stampa, Quirico prefers to keep communication to a minimum to avoid unwanted attention. La Stampa said the paper decided to wait for six days–the same length of time Quirico once went incommunicado while reporting in Mali–before asking the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to investigate. The paper requested a media blackout on the journalist until the investigation was over.

The Belgian daily Le Soir said on April 24 that Piccinin, the Belgian writer who is also missing, had not been heard from in two weeks. The paper reported that Piccinin had entered the western part of the country in early April, and was supposed to return to Belgium on April 14.

Le Soir reported that Piccinin was traveling with another European journalist whose name had been withheld at the request of his employer. It is not clear if the second journalist referred to Quirico.

Piccinin is an academic who has written several articles on Syria for Le Soir and other international news outlets. In 2012, he published a book and accompanying documentary on the Syrian uprising, called “The Battle of Aleppo.” At the onset of the uprising, he had written several articles critical of the Syrian opposition and Western intervention, but, according to Le Soir, his perspective changed after he was detained and tortured by Syrian police last May.

“We are very concerned about the well-being of Domenico Quirico and Pierre Piccinin da Prata,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour said. “Their disappearances are yet another reminder of the severe risks that journalists face in covering the Syrian conflict.”

Quirico was briefly abducted with three other Italian journalists by supporters of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya in August 2011, according to news reports. Earlier this month, four other Italian journalists were abducted in northern Syria by forces believed to be from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, according to news reports. The four were released after a week, the reports said.

At least 21 local and international journalists were abducted in 2012 by various sides of the conflict, including government or pro-government militias; rebel or rebel-affiliated groups; and non-Syrian Islamic extremist groups, according to CPJ research. Most have been released, but several remain missing, including Al-Hurra reporter Bashar Fahmi and freelancers Austin Tice and James Foley.