Did Syria Target Western Journalists Killed in Homs?

Two Western journalists were among the 80 people killed in the central Syrian city of Homs on Wednesday, as the government continued to shell it for the 19th day straight. American-born and award-winning journalist Marie Colvin, who was working for the The Sunday Times, and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were killed when an artillery shell hit the house they were staying in, where there was a makeshift media center. Also injured were Irish photographer Paul Conroy who was accompanying Colvin and French journalist Edith Bouvier, who works for the newspaper Le Figaro; Bouvier is said to be bleeding profusely and could die without receiving proper medical care soon.

Citizen Journalist Rami el-Sayed Killed on Tuesday

On Tuesday, citizen journalist Rami el-Sayed was killed while trying to help a family fleeing in a car. He had posted over 800 videos of the assault on the Sunni Arab neighborhood of Baba Amr in Homs on his YouTube channel, Syria Pioneer, and also provided a live broadcast on the video streaming website, Bambuser. His brother has posted a video on the channel of  his body, wounded by shrapnel, in a makeshift clinic in Baba Amr. He had posted his final words on Tuesday night:

“Baba Amr is being exterminated. Do not tell me our hearts are with you because I know that. We need campaigns everywhere across the world and inside the country. People should protest in front of embassies and everywhere. Because in hours, there will be no more Baba Amr. And I expect this message to be my last.”

In Memoriam Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik

Ochlik was in his late 20s and had covered wars in Haiti, Congo and the Middle East. He had won first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo contest for this photo of a rebel fighter in Libya.

Colvin’s last article for The Sunday Times was published on Sunday. Entitled We live in fear of a massacre,  it is a wrenching witness to the human devastation in Homs, with people being killed while foraging for food in the coldest winter in years and almost every family having lost someone. Colvin described  300 women and children in their refuge, a wood factory cellar; the children have not been out since February 4 and a baby born in the cellar has been fed sugar and water as her mother, Fatima, is too traumatized to breast-feed after her family’s house was flattened by an artillery shell.

Colvin described how she made her way into Homs:

I entered Homs on a smugglers’ route, which I promised not to reveal, climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches. Arriving in the darkened city in the early hours, I was met by a welcoming party keen for foreign journalists to reveal the city’s plight to the world. So desperate were they that they bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on, everyone standing in the back shouting “Allahu akbar” — God is the greatest. Inevitably, the Syrian army opened fire.

When everyone had calmed down I was driven in a small car, its lights off, along dark empty streets, the danger palpable. As we passed an open stretch of road, a Syrian army unit fired on the car again with machineguns and launched a rocket-propelled grenade. We sped into a row of abandoned buildings for cover.

Colvin’s last post was on a web forum Tuesday night in which she wrote:

“I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated. In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. [Colvin also described the horror of seeing the two-year-old child die in an interview with the BBC.] Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information.”

Colvin had covered wars and conflict in the Middle East, Chechnya, the Balkans, Iraq and Sri Lanka, where she lost her left eye to shrapnel. There have been tributes all day to her and her bravery. Sunday Times editor John Witherow described her as too experienced to take “reckless risks” and as “somebody who was fun, full of life with joie de vivre and friends all over the world.”

Were Western Journalists in Syria Targeted?

Witherow also said to the BBC that Colvin may have been targeted. The Syrian government has only rarely granted foreign journalists visas to the country and then closely surveilled their activities. As the New York Times says,

…the latest deaths of journalists, on top of the agonizing civilian toll, focused a new wave of international revulsion and anger on Mr. Assad and the Syria government. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said the killings showed that “enough is enough, this regime must go. There is no reason why Syrians should not have the right to live their lives, to freely choose their destiny.”

Jean-Pierre Perrin, senior foreign correspondent at the French daily Libération, told the Guardian that he had been with Colvin several days ago in Homs. They had both left as they had been warned that the Syrian army was “planning a major offensive” and might “target” reporters; Colvin had returned as the assault had not occurred after some days:

Perrin told Libération that the press centre, which had a generator and a patchy internet connection, was the only means of informing the outside world of what was happening in the city. “If the press centre were destroyed, there would be no more information out of Homs.”

Perrin said the Syrian army recommended “killing any journalist that stepped on Syrian soil”. He said the journalists had been aware of this, and of reports of intercepted communications between Syrian officers that recommended killing all journalists found between the Libyan border and Homs, and making out they had been killed in combat between terrorist groups.

A number of journalists have been killed during the Syrian uprising including two freelance cameramen, Ferzat Jarban and Basil al-Sayed; French television reporter, Gilles Jacquier; and freelance reporter Mazhar Tayyara. New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died last Thursday from asthma while attempting to leave Syria after spending a week in the country.


Related Care2 Coverage

McCain and Graham: Send Arms to Syrian Opposition; Palmyra Under Siege

The Powerful, Lyrical Writing of Journalist Anthony Shadid (1968-2012)

BREAKING: UN Votes to Condemn Regime of Bashar al-Assad



Photo by biscator's via flickr


Colum N.
Colum N5 years ago

Maybe america should take a look at it's human rights violations.
1.2 million people dead in iraq alone...

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

part 4

That, John, is why I spoke so sternly to the Generals and Ministers. I had seen the disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom – and I knew that they had come from exactly that same sort of background, so they should understand. And there was no need to rule these people with an iron fist. I found the courage to speak out because of the poverty and kindness I had witnessed, and because I knew that few Syrians would have the opportunity, or the courage, to do it themselves. Sadly, it had no effect, so here we are, all these years down the line, and the bloodbath my husband predicted, should the people ever reach their tipping point, has finally arrived.

May you sleep peacefully tonight. And may whichever God protect the Syrian people.

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

part 3

And one final thing, John – I didn’t “know just rich people”, I travelled much, in the south, the centre and the north, going out into the smallest villages and the Palestinian refugee camps, well away from the usual tourist trails. It was in those places that I met some of the poorest people in Syria, the children without shoes, their tiny feet hardened and chapped, little in the way of medical assistance, managing, if they were lucky, to grow a few crops, herd a few sheep. And wherever I went, I could not have had a warmer welcome. The children would run out into the street to say hello and walk alongside you wanting to help and guide you; the women would come out and insist you visit them in their home – a mud-brick building with a single room, with no furniture, just rugs and a few mattresses that had been stacked up for the day, all spotlessly clean. They were the most welcoming, friendly and generous people anyone could imagine, offering tea, coffee, dates, nuts, watermelon, whatever they had, and then want to give you gifts to take away with you. They, who have nothing, wanting to give to you, who have much – there were times I felt embarrassed by their generosity.

That, John, is why I spoke so sternly to the Generals and Ministers. I had seen the disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom – and I knew that they had come from exactly that same sort of background, so they should understand. And there

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

part 2

You talk of lack of investment. Whose investment? Investment from outside? My point is that the regime has stolen more than $600bn from the country and invested it in their own names around the world for purely their own benefit. That is why the country and the people are so poor. Had that money been spent on infrastructure and developing the country, everyone there would have had a far better standard of living than they currently do, and there would have been jobs a-plenty.

Equally, had people had the freedom to use their entrepreneurial and intellectual skills to create and develop businesses, without the corruption and bribery that has existed to the benefit of the family, that stolen $600bn could by now have multiplied many times, and it could be a thriving economy.

You say people are “getting as much as could be given” – well, that is the point, isn’t it? They don’t want to be “given” things by an overpowering state – a situation which creates dependency, and commands obedience in exchange. All they want to be given by the government is dignity. They want to the opportunity to work, to provide for their families, and the freedom to make their own decisions and not to live in oppressive fear.

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

Part 1

John D.,

Thank you for reading my posts – and thank you for calming down.

At least we can both agree on how safe and secure we both felt in Syria, anywhere, anytime, any place.

A couple of points of contention – nowhere did I suggest that the Syrian people would not help those less fortunate than themselves, or anyone in trouble. The only time I noticed a hesitation to step in to assist someone was when a woman was molested in Souk Hamediya by a soldier wearing the uniform of one of Rifaat’s (the uncle, the “Butcher of Hama”) Republican Guard and then knocked her to the ground. Everyone stood back, but as soon as he had passed on, everyone came rushing to help and apologised for his savage and ignorant behaviour. They could not have been more caring. That woman was me.

RE. sanctions – at times the regime actually welcomed them. They provided them with more excuses keep the people poor and collect bribes from people for turning a blind eye or assisting in getting round the sanctions. Did any member of the regime ever go without anything because of sanctions? No. For the family, there was always a way round.

John Duqesa
Past Member 5 years ago

Sheila H.

Thank you for your interesting series of posts.

I also knew some inportant people, although they were not nearly as highly placed as the ones you received at home. What I did note, contrary to you, is that these people, as in most Muslim countries which are developing (and subject, in Syria's case to sanctions and lack of investment) would help those less fortunate than themselves. One woman, in UK terms, upper middle class, actively sought out the disabled to gather them to her charity.

But enough. I also heard of excesses. But I also saw that people were getting as much as could be given. I don't want to get into a "my observations are better than your observations" ding dong and you clearly sincerely hold your views. Just one thing, I was talking about social housing projects, some of which I visited (I didn't just know rich people!) and felt so safe and secure even at night.

nicola w.
Jane H5 years ago

It is fashionable to bag "the media" and blame them for everything we whinge about - but we in the western world should appreciate free press. It protects us with consumer issues and life and death situations - far quicker than any politician with a vested interests.
This is an awful loss for journalism and the families involved. It is hard enough as a journo to get in and cover dangerous situations as media empires start worrying about insurance bills .
Far cheaper to cover rubbish like Hollywood marriages and sport .
So don't bag the serious press - lets appreciate it.

SeattleAnn S.
Ann S5 years ago

It always amazes me how often the media is looked upon with disdain, when clearly, there are so many brave journalists risking their lives to inform us of the atrocities taking place around the world. I always thought the journalists who travel to these war-torn locations are even braver than soldiers, since they go into these dangerous places unarmed unlike soldiers who carry a lot of weapons and have redundant field support.

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

part 5

But no-one denied I was speaking the truth. They knew full well what they were doing, but had no intention of changing their ways. And they felt no inhibitions about flaunting their wealth and power in front of the people. Is there any wonder the people have finally had enough?

My heart is with the people of Homs, they know they are facing another Hama. Rifaat al Assad, Bashar's uncle, boasted of slaughtering 38,000 people in Hama in 1982. How many massacred will it be this time? Is that OK with you John D?

sheila h.
sheila haigh5 years ago

part 4

There were over 2,000 guests. All the crystal glassware, porcelain crockery and the solid gold cutlery had been specially made for the occasion. No-one knows the final figure that was spent. But that was just one wedding, repeated many times for everyone else’s son or daughter. While many people were living in unsanitary housing and unable to feed themselves or buy medicine. And the regime hadn’t even been in power 20 years at that time. They had amassed billions by then, and far more by now.

I could see what a wonderful country Syria could be, if only the government would invest wisely in its natural resources for the good of the country and not for their own pockets, and if they would free up the people to set up businesses and provide work. But I could see what the regime was doing, till finally I could hold my tongue no more.

As I said, we were in a comfortable situation. We had Generals and Ministers visiting our house almost daily. So I began to speak out. “Why do you rob your country? It could be such a great country for everyone. You are thieves. This is the people’s money you are stealing. Its not yours.” They could not be rude to me in my own house, but I saw the furtive, uncomfortable glances from one to another, as they heard someone speak the truth to them. They looked awkward, possibly embarrassed, gave me a patronising smile, and shuffled about in their seats. But no-one denied I was speaking the truth.