A Turkish-backed police vehicle is seen in Al-Bab, Syria, on November 24, 2020. Journalist Hussein Khattab was recently shot and killed while reporting from Al-Bab. (AFP/Bakr Alkasem)

Syrian journalist Hussein Khattab shot and killed while reporting in Aleppo governorate

New York, December 14, 2020 – Authorities in the northwestern Syrian city of Al-Bab should conduct a thorough investigation into the killing of journalist Hussein Khattab, and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On December 12, two unidentified masked men on a motorcycle fired at least 10 shots at Khattab, a reporter for the Turkish state-owned broadcaster TRT Arabic who was also known as Kara al-Safrani, according to news reports, a report by his employer, and reports by the press freedom and human rights groups the Syrian Journalists’ Association and the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Khattab died at the scene, and the killers escaped on the motorcycle, those reports said.

At the time of the attack, Khattab was filming a report about the COVID-19 pandemic near a cemetery in Al-Bab, in Aleppo governorate in northwestern Syria, according to those reports.

Khattab, who has been working for TRT Arabic since November 2019, recently covered sensitive topics including interviews with victims of a chemical attack, according to clips of his reporting he shared on his personal Facebook page. On that page, where he had about 5,000 followers, Khattab also posted footage of the conditions for internally displaced people at camps in northern Syria, and a bomb attack in the border city of Jarabulus.

“Even as international attention to the Syrian conflict continues to wane, journalists like Hussein Khattab risk their lives to inform the global public of the violence and turmoil in their homeland,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado. “Authorities in Al-Bab must thoroughly investigate Khattab’s killing and do their utmost to allow journalists to report safely and without fear of reprisal.”  

On September 27, Khattab posted on his personal Facebook account that a man identified as Ahmed Abdullah had pointed a gun at his face and had previously tried to stop him from reporting in the Aleppo village of Tarhine, where Khattab was covering a camp holding internally displaced people.

Khattab wrote that he felt Abdullah had “tried to kill me,” and added that he had reported Abdullah, whom he said was also known as Al-Sos, to local authorities.

Mustafa Sejari, leader of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army, a coalition of armed Syrian opposition groups that controls the city of Al-Bab, issued a statement saying that the Syrian National Army, the Defense and Interior Ministries, and the military police bore responsibility for Khattab’s killing, considering the journalist had made them aware of previous threats to his life, according to reports.

At least three other journalists have been killed in Syria this year in connection to their work, according to CPJ research.

CPJ contacted the local council of Al-Bab via messaging app for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.