Targeting Journalists in Syria

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Gilles Jacquier

Gilles Jacquier, French Photojournalist, killed in a mortar attack on January 11, 2012 in Zahra, Homs. An 'informed observer in Damascus' gives a brief but fair overview of this case, writing for Joshua Landis' Syria Comment:

An investigation by the French Ministry of Defence concluded that Jacquier had been killed in an attack carried out by anti-Assad rebels. Caroline Poiron, Jacquier’s wife, published the book Attentat Express in June 2013 with Vallelian and Hammouche that accuses Syrian government intelligence of planning the death of her husband. She claims he was killed either by a 22 millimeter gun associated with Syrian secret police or a long knife.

This strange-sounding characterization is apparently true. Linked was an interview she gave to Michael Weiss, published at Now. (Lebanon), June 6, 2013: "The regime killed my husband" expanding on her theory in the book, which she wrote as a first-hand witness who was with Giiles in Homs when he died. She offers many confusing, circumstantial arguments about various named officials seeming suspicious and perhaps spying on them. The core of the story is what happened during the mortar attack that's said to kill him.

[Gilles] ran because his cameraman was taken by 20 men to a location and Gilles, who can’t work without his cameraman, was trying to catch up. I said to Gilles, “Wait, wait, what are you doing? There’s a bombing. ” I got to the same building as Gilles. The cameraman is isolated in another building. What the Syrian secret service does is, they isolate someone. What they did was easy.”

They made it to the roof, then ran back down amid more strikes, stopping on the second floor where they saw the missing cameraman down on the street.

So he left me and went down to the ground floor where all the mukhabarat were. Then: boom! A loud sound went off. I went downstairs and Gilles was dead.
Gilles was killed inside the building by a either 22-millimeter gun that is carried by Syrian secret service or by a long knife. They killed him with their own hands. I kept his anorak (coat) after his death, I took photos, the [French] police took photos.

She might be talking about wounds, from impacts that tore through his coat. She may have seen signs of both, and wasn't sure which kind was the most fatal. But of course, shrapnel wounds can look like gunshots or stab wounds or toehr, depending.

But she says the building was undamaged, as in no broken glass or any way for shrapnel to get inside.

It’s impossible that a mortar or RPG killed Gilles because even though one was fired at the building, it caused no destruction inside. The door of the building was not damaged.
There was also something strange we noticed outside: a red car in front of the building which arrived just before us. It stopped exactly in front of the building. At the same time as the grenade or mortar was fired and at the same time the mukhabarat killed Gilles inside, something went off inside the car. However, the glass of the car window broke outward, not inward, indicating that whatever went off – we think it was a rifle shot – happened from inside the car.

This is difficult to parse, and perhaps the book makes it clearer, but it seems here theory is: someone with a rifle shot out the windshield of their own car, while a rebel mortar shell landed, and the Mukhabarat shot Gilles (with a different firearm) and/or stabbed him inside. Its proximity to the exit door is presented as relevant, but the reason for that isn't clear.

She also claims Mother Mary Agnes, "a Christian fixer ... working for the regime" was the one who "put us on the bus to Homs. She forced Gilles to go on the bus to film a report." And further, she cites "a video the rebels obtained from the man they say is the the killer of Gilles. We don’t know if it’s real, but the [supposed killer] says on the video that when he has a mission, he gets a name and the reason why he kills the person – on paper, it says ‘Gilles Jacquier, agent.’" She makes no mention of any video of the actual incident to bolster her claims.

Implicit is the question of just how an assassination like this was blended so well into a real mortar attack, all in real time. She doesn't specify here if she believes the regime actually launched the attack themselves, but that only makes sense. It's quite a thing to coordinate within the duration of a rebel mortar attack.

The interviewer, Michael Weiss, presented her with "The Arab League report on Gilles’ death states: “Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.”" Poiron responds:

The French investigation is still going on. If you talk to Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador to Syria, or to the French Defense Ministry, they will all tell you that France has made no determination on who killed Gilles. They need to send experts to Homs. So the [French] judge asked the Syrians to organize a group there. But justice moves very slowly in France.

However, as Le Figaro published in July, 2012 (auto-translated)

"The ballistic analysis and information collected on site by our sources just after the tragedy indicate that Jacquier was killed a 81 mm mortar shelling came from a rebel Sunni neighborhood, says Le Figaro a source close case to the Ministry of Defence in Paris. Analysis shows quite precisely the source of the shooting.""

Video Record

And then there's video of the events, not mentioned by Ms. Poiron, and seeming to contradict her conclusions.

1) Journaliste Gilles Jacquier tué killed en Syrie Youtube, 6:00 - published by George Malki, Jan 11, 2012. Footage from Ad-Dounia news (Syria, pro-government). (provided by Landis' 'informed observer.' as showing "the moment that Gilles Jacquier was killed along with eight Syrians.") 2) Syrie un journaliste de France 2 tué par des terroristes a Homs la VRT a film les Evénements rtbf.be video, with German (?) subtitles, 2:47.

Video 1: The place the photographer was taken was apparently the building they were filming from here, or one nearby, the site of impacts in the rebel mortar attack. A rooftop water tank is pouring water through what could appear to be bullet-holes. Maybe he was taken here to document the damage, not by way of an abduction (or "isolation"). It could be geo-located from what's seen, but it hasn't been yet.

At 1:18 as we're shown the tail of a prior mortar shell, the impact in question happens, very loudly. The cameraman runs to the edge to look down to the street. Two men are seen down, one injured and one apparently dead.

Victims: (more analysis perhaps in time). In both videos 1 and 2, at least 7 or 8 wounded or dead people are seen at street level, most of them being loaded into taxis and vans to get to the hospital (it's said 8 were killed and 25 wounded). One is a woman with a bloodied face chanting Allahu Akbar. One, apparently, is Jacquier. (...) In video 2, some are seen in the hospital. With only 2 people seen down in the open, most of these must have been inside nearby buildings, and most were presumable injured by the mortar shell, not a plotted assassination.

Jacquier and the door in question?

Video 2 may show Jacquier where he died (correlation pending). Poiron clarified it was inside the building, where an undamaged door should have shielded him from any shrapnel, proving he was shot and/or stabbed instead. At 1:13, the cameraman reaches the ground floor, where agitated men urge the camera to come film a man in a dark hooded coat laying face-down in blood. He's inside the building, but barely - less than a meter inside the door. And the door is open - he might have been half a meter outside when hit.

He might have been in a different spot, however - there's a lot of blood all down the hall, and only two victims seen right at the door. This appears strange, and could be seen as lending credibility to Poiron's theory.

This seems to be a two-pane door, with the left side swinging inward and wide-open at the moment, and the right side latched shut. In fact, there appears to be no shrapnel damage visible to the door. For the right pane, it's only clear that there are no obvious holes punched clear through it, or else we'd see dots on sunlight. It could be extra-sturdy metal that was just dented. The unmarked left pane could mean only the door was open, and the blast direction was from straight ahead, or a bit from the left. Nothing would hit the door, just the person who opened it. Another man in a blue sports jacket lays next to him, to the right. That's the only space anyone else could stand, and it suggests at least the blast wasn't coming at all from the right. Interior damage is unclear. There might be none if a body or two in the doorway absorbed enough shrapnel from the rebel mortar shell.

Gilles Jacquier red car.png

The red car Poiron speaks of is there (seen in video 1 at 1:25, 2:15, 2:27, 2:39, 3:00). She said it had its windshield blown outward from some blast inside. As seen, it's front left tire is possibly on fire, and pouring smoke - likely after something external. Or the main smoke of impact lines up with the wheel. No marks are evident on the chassis, from these views at even middle distances, but there should be some (apparently small, maybe like .22 caliber bullets). The windshield seems intact (reflective), but is potentially shattered and bowed out a bit. The driver's side window was left down or, more likely, broken out. Implied blast direction: from outside the car, to the left, or in the street, possibly from behind.

It seems the same car might drives off at 3:44 (one similar to it drives away, and then it seems the car is no longer there, but the views aren't very clear).

Marie Colvin, Remi Olchik

Sunday Times reporter and Freelance photographer, February 22, 2012, in Baba Amr, Homs

(forthcoming)

James Foley, Steven Sotloff

(forthcoming, as needed - ISIS, not controversial))


Richard Engel

(forthcoming)

Anthony Loyd, Jack Hill

A Times reporter and his photographer, kidnapped in May 2014 for ransom by the man that worked as their stringer, Hakim Abu Jamal. After an escape attempt, Hakim beat up Loyd severely and shot him in the leg twice. Case well documented, likely the ransom was paid. In September 2016, Loyd writes an article about his astonishment that the kidnapper features prominently in videos of "moderate rebels", taking part in the operations in northern Syria led by the Turkish army as subcommander of a CIA-vetted group called "First Regiment".

Alex Thomson

Attempted killing, June 7 or 8, 2012, in Al-Qusayr, Homs (story details forthcoming - note: some affiliated sources have reported this happened in Hama, when he went to report on the Mazraat al-Qubeir massacre, but that's nothing but timing - he was in or near al-Qusayr, southers Homs province)

“I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. (note: these ‘army snipers’ never shot at the rebels doing the set-up) Dead journos are bad for Damascus."

Nawaf al Thani, a human rights lawyer and a member of the Arab League Observer mission to Syria, told Thomson "I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.”

“I have no doubt in my mind what happened, nor independently, does the very experienced cameraman I was with, and, perhaps more importantly than that, neither does the driver or the translator we were working with have any doubt at all that we were deliberately … exposed to a dangerous situation. And I have absolutely no doubt they did it deliberately. When we reappeared, still alive, the car full of men saw us, turned round and drove off at speed.”

Any observer can note a strong "anti-rebel" bias - relative to other Western reporters - in his subsequent reporting. Consider he was already different, moving with Syrian army, not "Free Syrian army" protection, and unusually using official channels via the Damascus government, only venturing cautiously into such situations when necessary. (He also was unusually willing to blame Libyan rebels for massacres in Tripoli the year before, as with the Abu Salim hospital massacre)

  • Before: first report (video) from Taldou after the Houla Massacre, May 26. He seems to blame the government, but shows possibly muted skepticism of the rebels claims, in a somewhat cryptic report, as the Army clearly fights to re-gain turf (the massacre area, as it happens) that rebels have conquered)
  • After: Thomson's June 27 reaction (blog) to the UN CoI's first report on the Houla Massacre in June:
The UN report says anti-government civilians and fighters from al-Houla were first on the scene of the massacre and took care of body retrieval and burial. The report leads to two possible reasons for this: they were there anyhow because they’d committed the atrocity. Or they’d heard the shots and screams, knew what had gone on and naturally entered the location at the first safe opportunity.

He doesn't seem any more convinced of government guilt than they were at the time.

  • After: Covering the Aqrab Massacre or whatever it was, after rebel reports that Alawite "Shabiha" and military forces had teamed up to murder over 100 of the "Shabiha" and their familiy members with non-rebel explosives. blog and video. He rips their stupid story to shreds, after speaking with survivors.

"Pro-Assad" Media

All journalists with SANA, Syrian state media, sympathetic and allied media outfits; Maya Nasser, Thaer Aljani, etc. A huge list, perhaps forthcoming. Pretty clearly all rebel work, but there probably are some competing claims in there.

Resources

11 Journalists Killed in Syria/motive unconfirmed

96 Journalists Killed in Syria/Motive Confirmed

30 Freelance

16 with known pro-Syria and allied media

21 with known opposition/friendly nation mainstream media

23 unclear (research needed on the outfit)

Suspected source of fire for the 96:

11% Government Officials (includes police)

1% Local Residents

46% Military Officials (national military, Syria)

1% Paramilitary Group (here, "Shabiha," etc.)

22% Political Group (includes insurgents/terrorists)

22% Unknown

total = 103%