Walid Al-Qassim, a reporter for the pro-opposition outlet Aleppo News Network, was detained at a checkpoint manned by the Nusra Front in the Aleppo district of Haritan after reporting on clashes between rebel soldiers and Islamic State militants on October 12, 2014, according to Ali al-Muslim, who worked closely with al-Qasim at the station.
Al-Qasim was with three members of the Dawn of Freedom rebel brigade and the group’s driver at the time. The reporter was not affiliated with the brigade. The five men were handed to Darulqadaa, an unofficial court with links to Nusra Front, al-Muslim said.
In December 2014, one of the rebels and the group’s driver were released, Amer Hassan, a press officer for Dawn of Freedom, told CPJ. Hassan said the pair told him al-Qasim was being held by Nusra Front.
Al-Muslim said that senior figures at the Aleppo News Network told members of Darulqadaa that al-Qasim was a reporter, not a fighter, and should be released. Dawn of Freedom representatives also contacted the unofficial court to say that al-Qasim was a member of the press, Hassan told CPJ.
Al-Muslim, who spoke with someone at Darulqadaa , said that on January 26, 2015, al-Qasim and the two remaining rebels were killed after being accused of “apostasy” by the Nusra Front. The same day, the journalist’s family received a letter from Darulqadaa saying al-Qasim had been killed by an unknown “group on the ground,” the journalist’s childhood friend, Hassan al-Aadeen, told CPJ.
Al-Aadeen told CPJ that al-Qasim’s family did not believe the letter. “How is it possible that the court knows he is dead, but don’t know who killed him? We strongly believe Nusra gave the orders [for his murder],” he said.
A spokesperson for the Aleppo News Network, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivities of the case, told CPJ there was no proof as to who was holding al-Qasim, and that the network could not discount the Darulqadaa account that al-Qasim was released the same day he was detained at the checkpoint, but was immediately taken hostage by an unknown group.
The Aleppo Press Union, an opposition body representing journalists across the province, rejected the narrative from the unofficial court that al-Qassim had been detained by another group and, in a statement, said the court run by Nusra Front was responsible for al-Qasim’s death.
Al-Qasim’s parents never received the journalist’s body, despite their pleas documented in a YouTube video uploaded by the Syrian Network for Human Rights.
In a February 2015 statement, the Syrian Journalists’ Association, a France-based independent press workers’ union, cited reporters on the ground saying that Nusra Front may have refused to deliver al-Qasim’s body to his family due to the presence of visible torture marks on the body.
A representative of the Aleppo Press Union, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, told CPJ via messaging app on May 30, 2020, that no party had admitted to al-Qasim’s killing and that no new information had emerged about his case.
“As far as I know, his family never received his remains,” the representative said.