Jerf, editor-in-chief of the independent monthly Hentah and the maker of documentary films on the militant group Islamic State, was shot in front of a building that houses Syrian opposition news outlets in downtown Gaziantep in Turkey, near the Syrian border, on the afternoon of December 27, according to news reports.
A silenced pistol was used in the attack on the filmmaker, who was shot in the head and chest, according to reports. Jerf, who had recently finished a documentary on the Syrian citizen journalist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, was taken to a Turkish hospital where he later died, according to news reports.
Some supporters of Islamic State celebrated the killing on social media and the Saudi-owned pan-Arab Al-Arabiya news channel said the militant group claimed responsibility in a statement.
Jerf’s murder came amid a campaign of violence by Islamic State against members of RBSS and other Syrian journalists. On December 16, 2015, Ahmed Mohamed al-Mousa, a 23-year-old editor for RBSS, was shot dead in Idlib province. In October 2015 Ibrahim Abd al-Qader was killed alongside fellow journalist Fares Hamadi in Urfa, southeastern Turkey.
In a video published online on March 8, 2016 by Islamic State’s local branch in Deir Ezzor, Syria, the militants claimed responsibility for the murders of all four journalists. The video, "Escaping won’t do you any good," showed two new hostages who identified themselves as Mohamed al-Kardoush and Jamal al-Ati, whom the militants accused of providing information to Western governments. It was not immediately clear if the hostages were journalists.
Jerf had produced a documentary about Syrian activists being killed by Islamic State in Aleppo in 2013 and 2014. The documentary, which he published on his YouTube channel in December 2015 and which aired on pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya the month before, attracted more than 12 million views and tens of thousands of comments on Al-Arabiya’s Facebook page, the channel reported. Jerf also directed a documentary on RBSS, the group CPJ honored in November 2015 with its International Press Freedom Award.
Shortly before his death, Jerf had been issued a visa so he could move to France with his family, according to Reporters Without Borders. The Paris-based organization, which supported his visa application, said Jerf had received threats over his work documenting Islamic State atrocities. Zara Hasan, a Syrian activist who said she accompanied Jerf to the hospital after he was shot, told CNN the filmmaker also received death threats from Islamic State.
On January 10, the Guardian cited Turkish state media as reporting that three men suspected of being involved in his killing were in custody in Gaziantep.
On June 9, 2017, the Second Gaziantep Court of Serious Crimes sentenced Yusuf Hamed Eşveri to two life terms in prison plus five years and five months for killing Jerf. He was convicted on charges of "pre-planned murder," "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order by force" and violating the laws for owning weapons and explosives, Turkish media reported.
Three other suspects, Farag al-Hussein, Ali Çerkez and Reyad Matar, were acquitted for lack of evidence.
A person in close touch with Jerf’s family told CPJ that the journalist’s relatives were not satisfied with the legal process and that they had not been represented by a lawyer of their own. Jerf’s relatives said the trial happened behind closed doors and it was not clear why the three other suspects were acquitted, this person said.