Sunday 4 December 2016

Syrian army accused of targeting journalists after veteran reporter is killed

Gordon Rayner, Nabila Ramdani and Richard Spencer in London

Published 23/02/2012 | 05:00

MARIE Colvin, the 'Sunday Times' war correspondent, was killed by Syrian forces acting on direct orders to murder Western journalists, it was claimed last night.

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President Bashar al-Assad's army was so determined to silence reporters who were telling the world about the relentless killing of civilians in the besieged city of Homs that they allegedly pledged to "kill any journalist who set foot on Syrian soil".

Ms Colvin (56) died along with a French photographer, Remi Ochlik (28), when they were fired on as they tried to flee a makeshift press centre that had been directly hit by a shell.

Witnesses said they were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade as they emerged from the ruins of the press centre.

Before the building was attacked, Syrian army officers were allegedly intercepted by intelligence staff in neighbouring Lebanon discussing how they would claim that journalists had been killed in crossfire with "terrorist groups".

The deaths of the two journalists prompted an international outcry, with Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, saying: "Enough is enough. This regime must go."

Hours before she died, Colvin had given interviews to several broadcasters, including the BBC, Channel 4 and CNN, in which she accused Mr Assad's forces of "murder" and said: "The Syrian army is shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."

Jean-Pierre Perrin, a journalist for the Paris-based 'Liberation' newspaper, who was with Ms Colvin in Homs last week, said they had been told the Syrian army was deliberately going to shell their media centre.

He said: "A few days ago, we were advised to leave the city urgently and were told, 'If they (the Syrian army) find you, they will kill you.'

"I then left the city with (Ms Colvin) but she wanted to go back when she saw that the major offensive had not yet taken place.

"The Syrian army issued orders to 'kill any journalist that sets foot on Syrian soil'."

In Beirut, Mr Perrin was told about the intercepted radio traffic and said it was clear that Mr Assad's forces knew that there would be "no more information coming out of Homs" if they destroyed the press centre.

Dangers

Reporters working in Homs, which has been under siege since February 4, had become concerned in recent days that Syrian forces had "locked on" to their satellite phone signals and attacked the buildings from which they were coming.

Two other Western journalists -- British photographer Paul Conroy, who was on an assignment with Ms Colvin, and French reporter Edith Bouvier -- were wounded in the attack.

Ms Colvin had worn a black patch since losing an eye to a shrapnel wound while working in Sri Lanka in 2001. Her editor, John Witherow, said she "believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice".

Ms Colvin's mother Rosemarie said her daughter had been due to leave Syria yesterday after the 'Sunday Times' had ordered her to get out because it was so dangerous.

She said of her daughter: "She had to stay. She wanted to finish one more story. Her legacy is: be passionate and be involved in what you believe in. Do it as thoroughly, honestly and fearlessly as you can."

Rupert Murdoch, who owns the 'Sunday Times', described her as "one of the most outstanding foreign correspondents of her generation".

Ms Colvin, who was from New York but lived in London, was married three times but never had children. She had worked for the 'Sunday Times' for 20 years and twice won the British Press Award for Foreign Correspondent of the Year.

In 2010, Ms Colvin spoke about the dangers of reporting on war zones at a Fleet Street ceremony honouring fallen journalists.

She said: "Journalists covering combat shoulder great responsibilities and face difficult choices. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Obituary: PAGE 26

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