November 7, 2013 1:11:36 pm
Al-Qaeda is targeting citizen journalists in Syria’s Raqa with a wave of kidnappings,beatings and assassinations aimed at silencing them,in what activists call a reign of terror.
“Is your head still attached to your body? I swear to God your head will be cut off,and that we’ll give you a visa to hell,” read the threat sent last week to photographer Abd Hakawati.
It came from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Originally from the central province of Hama,Hakawati had worked on and off in the northern city of Raqa in recent months.
The regime has detained him twice and he has been wounded three times since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
“But I had never thought of leaving Syria until now,nor did I ever feel any fear,” Hakawati said. “Just thinking of these mercenary killers hidden behind beards and masks makes my heart shiver with fear,and makes me want to kill myself.”
Hakawati is friends with citizen journalist Mohammad Nour Matar,a Raqa native kidnapped by ISIL in August.
Matar’s brother Mezar,himself a photographer,spoke to a news agency from neighbouring Turkey,where dozens of Raqa activists have fled ISIL in recent weeks.
“It’s become hard to work in Raqa because of the kidnappings,beatings,detentions and attacks against media activists,” said Mezar Matar.
ISIL,he said,”sees all media activists as collaborators with the West.”
Though no side in Syria’s brutal war is innocent of abuses,ISIL has been accused of a systematic campaign in areas under its control to stamp out any group that could challenge its authority.
Sema Nassar,a prominent human rights defender,told AFP “there are no media activists left in Raqa. They’ve all left because they’re being targeted.”
Syria’s revolt,which broke out in March 2011,brought with it a generation of activists who documented the uprising.
In Raqa,which became the first provincial capital controlled by the opposition when it fell in March,they worked freely for a few weeks,without fear of retribution.
But within months ISIL became the most organised,feared group in the city,and started kidnapping and torturing dozens of young Syrians.
Its actions have bolstered the regime’s claim that all its opponents are “terrorists”.
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