Wasem Aledel, a member of the Maarat Media Center, was killed while filming airstrikes near the village of Binin in Idlib province, Syria, on October 23, 2015, according to his outlet and local human rights organizations.
Maarat Media Center published a graphic video of what it says was the final footage captured by Aledel. Lasting a minute in length, the footage shows a first-person perspective of the cameraman running, before the force of an explosion throws the camera into the dirt. Audible groaning can be heard as the roar of a jet returns. Two more explosions follow, shaking the ground before the video ends. In another graphic video, severe lacerations in Aledel’s back and right side can be seen. A description under the video, which was posted on the center’s Facebook page, says the footage shows the journalist being taken to the morgue.
Maarat Media Center and other opposition-affiliated media accused Russia of conducting the airstrike that killed Aledel. The official Syrian government outlet SANA claimed it was Syrian government jets that killed Aledel, whom SANA accused of being a “terrorist.”
The Russian Defense Ministry did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment in late October 2015. When CPJ called the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., a man who did not identify himself said the claim that a Russian airstrike had killed Aledel was false. When asked which part of the story was false, the man said he had no comment and hung up.
The Russian military has not publicly disclosed any specific strikes in or near Binin on October 23. On October 26, the Russian Defense Ministry said on its website it had launched 164 combat sorties targeting 285 “terrorist objects” in the past three days across Syria, including in Idlib province.
The Russian military said it began airstrikes in Syria in September 2015 against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, and other militant groups. Russia has come under criticism by Syrian rebels and their supporters for using the strikes as an excuse to target all rebels fighting the Assad government, a long-time strategic ally of Russia. Human rights and civil society groups have criticized the strikes for indiscriminately killing and even targeting civilians.
In a report citing “battlefield sources” SANA claimed Aledel was one of 13 Ahrar al-Sham members killed by Syrian airstrikes near Binin. Ahrar al-Sham, whose fighters have links to Al-Qaeda, is a leading member of the Jaish al-Fateh coalition that includes Al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. At the time of Aledel’s death, the coalition comprised one of the strongest fighting forces countering the Assad government and Islamic State.
Aledel’s Twitter page featured a picture of many of Ahrar al-Sham’s leaders who had been killed, and he memorialized on social media leaders of other rebel groups who have died. CPJ did not find any evidence that Aledel participated in fighting. A month before his death, Aledel posted a picture of himself raising a camera in the air and said it was the weapon he chose to support the revolution.
According to news reports, Aledel defected from the Syrian army at the start of the uprising and began working in media. He first worked in the media office for the opposition coalition group, Syrian Revolution General Commission, filming fighting and other stories from his hometown of Maarat al-Numan and other parts of Idlib province. He later worked a freelancer for local and international outlets, including Al-Jazeera and Turkey’s state-run outlet Anadolu Agency, who both reported his death.
In August 2015, he helped found the Maarat Media Center, a collective of journalists from his hometown. According to the center, the group reports independently from Maarat al-Numan and its environs in an attempt to unify opposition forces in the fight against the Assad government. In the weeks before Aledel’s death, the center focused its reporting on what it called the “Russian aggression,” filming what it said were civilian casualties caused by Russian airstrikes.
On October 6, 2015 the group published a video of Aledel reporting on anti-Russian protests in Idlib and the silence of the international community. On October 12, 2015 Aledel was injured while covering fighting in Kfar Nabouda, north of the city of Hama. A video of Aledel slurring pro-opposition slogans under anesthetic as medical workers attended to a wound on his face went viral as numerous people wished him a fast recovery on social media.