Ghazal, a correspondent for the local pro-opposition outlet SMART News Agency, was killed by a government barrel bomb in Taftanaz, Idlib province, on September 26, 2015, his outlet reported. SMART’s general coordinator, Abdou al-Fadhel, told CPJ Ghazal died while covering the bombardment for the outlet.
Ghazal’s brother, Ghaith, told CPJ that Ghazal was at his family’s house when they heard the sound of barrel bombs exploding. Ghazal was killed after leaving the house to film the bombardment and to help the injured. Ghaith told CPJ his brother intended to send footage of the bombing to SMART but was killed before he could capture any footage.
SMART reported that Ghazal died from shrapnel wounds to the chest and shoulder. Some pro-opposition outlets published a graphic picture of Ghazal after he had died, with a deep gash in his right shoulder.
Three days before Ghazal’s death Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, described barrel bombs as “Assad’s most devastating weapon” used against civilians. Since the start of the civil war, the Assad government has arbitrarily bombed civilian areas such as Taftanaz by rolling makeshift bombs filled with shrapnel and explosives out the doors of its fleet of helicopters. President Bashar al-Assad has denied indiscriminately bombing civilians with barrel bombs despite the overwhelming evidence presented by human rights groups and international observers.
Local news reports said at least five people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in the bombing of Taftanaz, and the pro-opposition Taftanaz Media Office published graphic footage of the wounded receiving treatment at a crowded clinic.
The day before Ghazal’s death, government and opposition forces agreed to a wide-ranging ceasefire in Idlib province, including Taftanaz, in the wake of major rebel advances, news reports said. The most powerful rebel coalition fighting in Idlib, Jaish al-Fateh, responded to the bombardment of Taftanaz by shelling government-held towns nearby, according to reports. Despite the violent start, the ceasefire largely held in the weeks after Ghazal’s death, reports said.
SMART News Agency said Ghazal previously worked as a reporter for the Taftanaz Media Office and the media office for Ahrar al-Sham, a rebel groups belonging to the Jaish al-Fateh coalition. Several of Ahrar al-Sham’s founders had ties to al-Qaeda and, at the time of Ghazal’s death, the Jaish al-Fateh coalition included al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, the Nusra Front. SMART’s coordinator al-Fadhel said Ghazal joined the news agency in 2013 and was not working for any other organization besides SMART.
Ghaith Ghazal confirmed his brother had been part of Ahrar al-Sham as a fighter and a member of one of its media centers, helping to publicize the group, but that he was no longer a member of Ahrar al-Sham when he began working for SMART.
Ghazal regularly posted videos published by SMART on Facebook but because SMART does not usually use bylines for its videos, it was not clear which were filmed by him. Three weeks before his death, SMART published photos under Ghazal’s byline of rubble left behind in Sarmin by what the agency said was government shelling in the Idlib province town.
Ghaith Ghazal told CPJ that his 24-year-old brother was married and has a two-year old son and six-month old daughter. He left his studies at nursing school to join the protest movement at the start of the uprising against the Assad government in 2011, and was detained as a result for a month in 2012.