Abu Halawa was killed in the town of Abtaa, Daraa province, when gunmen stormed a house he was in, according to the TV channel he worked for and local news reports.
Also killed in the attack were Dirar al-Jahad, an online journalist who owned the house, and Ahmad Mahmoud al-Jahad and Nasr al-Jahad, two rebel fighters, a member of the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition reporting group that al-Jahad worked for, told CPJ via Facebook.
Abu Halawa was a stringer for Orient News, the privately owned opposition channel told CPJ. He also worked in the Abtaa Media Office, a local press center circulating news on Facebook from news outlets and opposition groups. The center primarily aggregates news, rather than carrying out original reporting.
Abu Halawa was at al-Jahad’s house so the two journalists could monitor local news online and to charge their cameras and phones, a member of the Abtaa Media Office who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity, said. Al-Jahad’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. 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 with whom CPJ spoke said 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.
The day before the attack, three moderate rebel brigades 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, an official from Local Coordination Committees, who asked not to be named out of security concerns, said 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 Houranwas 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 was 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.