New York, March 9, 2016 – A Syrian journalist narrowly escaped an assault by two unidentified men in the southeastern Turkish city of Urfa on Tuesday. The incident follows a string of attacks against Syrian journalists believed to have been carried out by Islamic State operatives inside Turkey.
Ahmed Abd al-Qader, the director of the Syrian news website Eye on the Homeland, told the Committee to Protect Journalists he was returning home when two men ambushed him just outside his building’s entrance. According to Abd al-Qader, one of the men grabbed him by the shoulder as he tried to escape into his building. Abd al-Qader hit the man with a case of canned soft drinks he was carrying and managed to wrest himself free as his shirt ripped in the assailant’s grasp. Abd al-Qader escaped into his building with minor injuries, and the two men fled the scene.
Abd al-Qader said he was not sure whether the assailants were armed, but he believed the men to have been from the Islamic State group, and feared they were trying to stab him to death as they had murdered his brother, Ibrahim, and his colleague, Fares Hamadi. On October 30, 2015, Islamic State militants lured Ibrahim and Hamadi, to the apartment of an Islamic State operative who had gained the journalists’ trust by pretending to have defected from the group. Abd al-Qader told CPJ he believes the fake defector, Tlas Surur, fled to Syria after the murders where he began to send death threats to the journalist.
In a video published online Tuesday by the Islamic State’s local branch in Deir Ezzor, Syria, the group claimed responsibility for the murders of Ibrahim Abd al-Qader and Fares Hamadi, as well as Syrian filmmaker and journalist Naji Jerf and Ahmed al-Mousa, a reporter and activist for the website Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. The video, entitled “Escaping won’t do you any good,” shows two new captives, identified as Mohamed al-Kardoush and Jamal al-Ati, whom militants from the Islamic State group accused of providing information to Western governments. It was not immediately clear if the captives were journalists.
Supporters of the Islamic State group previously released a video claiming responsibility for the murders of Abd al-Qader and Hamadi and showing footage from the murder scene. The group has not provided similar evidence of responsibility for the murders of Jerf or al-Mousa.
“We condemn the attack on Ahmed Abd al-Qader and call on Turkish authorities to swiftly find his assailants and bring them to justice,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Turkey must focus on solving the murders of Ibrahim Abd al-Qader, Fares Hamadi, and Naji Jerf, who had come to the country seeking protection, and ensure the safety of all Syrian journalists working there.”
Since the start of the conflict, numerous Syrian journalists have operated independent media outlets in Turkey, including Eye on the Homeland and Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. Syrian journalists have repeatedly told CPJ they face restrictions on reporting on events inside Turkey and fear the Turkish government is not doing enough to protect them from potential threats emanating from Syria. Members of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently and Eye on the Homeland told CPJ they receive death threats on a daily basis for their reporting on Islamic State.
Turkish President Recip Erdogan in January met with a group of Syrian journalists to discuss their concerns, including assaults on Syrian journalists by Turkish border guards, the licensing of Syrian media outlets and journalists, and how Turkey might provide greater security for Syrian journalists in the country, according to news reports. Turkish authorities detained one of the participants in the meeting, the founder of the ANA Press news agency, Rami Jarrah, last month. Jarrah posted on his Facebook page that he was released after several days of detention without receiving any official explanation for the reasons for his detention or release.