Members of the Northern Brigade of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) on June 22, 2018, detained Kaniwar Khalef and Essam al-Abbas, camerapersons for the Dubai-based news agency Arab 24, and Hassan Khalef, their camera assistant, in northeastern Syria near the village of Chath, according to the Syrian Journalists Association, the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, and Heybar Othman, a reporter for the U.S. State Department-funded Al-Horra TV who was travelling with the group and escaped.
Othman told CPJ that the group was traveling from the frontline village of Aoun Dadat to the village of Al-Hoshiriya for an assignment and had just crossed a checkpoint, manned by the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces, when he decided to get out of the shared vehicle and approach a group of men sitting under a tree to ask for directions.
The men identified themselves as members of the FSA’s Northern Brigade, Othman told CPJ.
“They began to question us and ordered my colleagues to step out of the car and sit on the ground with their hands behind their heads,” Othman said. “We told them we were journalists and unarmed and that we carried only cameras and laptops and had not taken any footage there. But they insisted that we kneel down, shouted at us, and started searching the car.”
Othman said that he was standing behind the armed FSA soldiers at this time and decided to run away toward a line of trees and across the nearby Sajur River, which is very shallow. The journalist said the soldiers shot at him; he was not hit and made it back to SDF-controlled territory.
According to Othman, who spoke with unnamed sources with knowledge of the matter, and a June 26 statement from the Union of Syrian Kurdish Journalists, brigade members took the journalists to the northern Syrian city of Jarabulus and transferred them to a prison in the northwestern Syrian city of Azaz, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Aleppo, on June 26, 2018.
The Northern Brigade did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment, which was sent via Twitter.
Othman said the journalists had planned to film a report in Al-Hoshiriya about a June 4 agreement between the U.S. and Turkey about the full withdrawal of Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the nearby city of Manbij, a main hub in the area.
For the report, the crew had scheduled an interview with a commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces who is known only by the name Khalil, Othman said .
The Syrian interim government did not immediately reply to CPJ’s requests for comment made via Facebook.