Online journalist al-Jahad was killed when gunmen stormed his house in Abtaa, a town in Daraa province, according to the Local Coordination Committees, the Abtaa Media Office, and news reports.
Fayez Abu Halawa, a stringer for Orient News, was killed in the same attack, along with Ahmad Mahmoud al-Jahad and Nasr al-Jahad, who were rebel fighters, a member of the Local Coordination Committees, who asked not to be named out of security concerns, told CPJ.
Al-Jahad was a stringer for the Local Coordination Committees’ regional office, a member of the opposition reporting group told CPJ. He reported on the impact of the war on the town and led coordination among activists, the group said. He was also one of the founders of the Abtaa Media Office, a member of the office, who asked not to be identified out of security concerns, told CPJ. The Abtaa Media Office circulates news on Facebook from news outlets and other opposition groups.
Al-Jahad was at his house with Abu Halawa so the journalists could monitor local news online and charge their cameras and phones, a member of the Abtaa Media Office, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity, said. The journalist’s house was one of the few in Abtaa that had electricity. On the evening of January 2 colleagues, including the one with whom CPJ spoke, found the bodies of the two journalists and the two fighters in the house. The Abtaa Media Office employee told CPJ he counted about 25-bullet holes in al-Jahad’s body. A video of the journalists’ bodies wrapped in white shrouds before their funerals was posted on a YouTube page belonging to a member of a local media group.
The Abtaa Media Office employee told CPJ the organization believes the journalists were deliberately targeted. Al-Jahad often criticized corruption and Islamist extremism within the local anti-Assad movement, the employee said. Al-Jahad had said the Nusra Front was sowing discord within the rebel alliances in Abtaa and the surrounding towns, he added.
CPJ was unable to find any articles or Facebook posts by al-Jahad criticizing the Nusra Front in Daraa. The Abtaa Media Office employee said al-Jahad’s anti-Nusra Front opinions were widely known in Abtaa and that the group “was the most likely culprit of this terrible crime.” An official from the Local Coordination Committees in Daraa, who asked not to be named, also told CPJ that al-Jahad’s anti-Nusra Front views were known among local activists.
CPJ was unable to determine if al-Jahad or Abu Halawa had been threatened by the Nusra Front.
The day before the attack, three moderate rebel brigades based in southern Syria formed a new coalition called the First Army. In its opening statement, the coalition distanced itself from the Nusra Front. Speaking to CPJ via Skype, the Local Coordination Committees official said that the two rebels killed alongside al-Jahad and Abu Halawa were members of the First Army. “They may have been the intended targets of the gunmen, who were probably from Nusra, [rather than the journalists],” he said.
A spokesman for Orient TV disputed the claim that the Nusra Front was behind the attack. Ahmad al-Deiri told CPJ a pro-government militia called the National Resistance Movement in Houran was trying to kill prominent activists and rebel figures in Daraa. The channel had heard rumors that this militia was responsible for the journalists’ deaths, al-Deiri said. The Orient TV spokesperson was unable to provide evidence to support this account.
The day Abu Halawa and al-Jahad were killed, the paper Al-Quds al-Arabi ran a story about the militia’s strategy in the south, but the report did not mention journalists being targeted for attack.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.