New York, May 18, 2016 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a rebel group’s attempted assassination of a Syrian journalist working for state media in Aleppo. The May 14 attack, the latest example of armed groups on all sides of the conflict targeting journalists, left four journalists and media workers seriously injured.
In a video statement published by regional news outlets, the Abu Omara Battalions group announced it had targeted Shadi Halwi, a correspondent for Syrian state television and its affiliated Syrian News Center, using a “blessed bomb” to target the “journalist close to the regime.” In a message seen by CPJ, the leader of the rebel group, Muhanna Jafala Abu Bokari, posted on his personal Facebook page on May 14 that Halwi was targeted after finishing his weekly television program, “This is Aleppo,” in retaliation for his coverage. As of May 17, CPJ was no longer able to view Abu Bokari’s Facebook profile.
The Abu Omara Battalions also released a video, published by multiple news outlets, purportedly showing the moment of the attack. The footage shows cars driving on a street at night when a fireball suddenly explodes by the side of the road.
Syrian pro-government media reported that three other journalists and media workers were injured in addition to Halwi: cameraman Sherif Abs, technician Ahmed Muraly, and driver Sumer Wunnous. All four are now in stable condition, Wasim Suleiman, a representative of the Syrian News Center, told CPJ on Tuesday. Suleiman said that Muraly worked as a cameraman as well.
Halwi posted on his Facebook page on May 15 an image of the television crew’s truck that was hit by the explosion. The gray Toyota Tundra shows dozens of shrapnel holes across the entire right side of the chassis. There are no clear signs marking the truck as a press vehicle.
Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to work as a journalist, with at least 94 journalists killed in relation to their work since 2011, according to CPJ research. While all sides have been implicated in the direct targeting of journalists, the government is responsible for more than half of the deaths of journalists in the country, according to CPJ research.
“The intentional targeting of a journalist or other non-combatant is strictly forbidden in international law,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour. “We call on all sides of the conflict to uphold their moral and legal obligations to safeguard journalists.”
Halwi’s coverage of events in Aleppo long angered opposition supporters, whom he regularly called terrorists. A man in 2013 hit Halwi with a sandal on live television and shouted, “The Syrian media is lying!” Last year, Halwi published a selfie on Facebook depicting him standing in front of captured rebel soldiers, whom he called terrorists.
Amnesty International last week issued a statement condemning the indiscriminate attacks against civilians carried out by Aleppo Conquest, a coalition of rebel groups in northern Syria that includes the Abu Omara Battalions. Government forces, backed by Russia, meanwhile continue to strike civilian targets, including hospitals and refugee camps, according to news reports.