Providing further evidence that there don’t seem to be obvious good guys in the civil war gripping Syria, a prominent British journalist alleged he and his team were lured by Syrian opposition forces into a trap, hoping they would be targeted for killing by the Syrian Army last weekend.
Alex Thompson, chief correspondent for Channel 4 News described the harrowing experience on his blog. Unlike many reporters covering Syria who sneak across the border from Lebanon, Thomson and his team were covering the conflict with the knowledge of the Assad government, which had granted them entry visas.
Providing a window to the lives of reporters covering war zones, he explains a United Nations official at the outset emphasized its representatives were not responsible for journalists. U.N. officer in charge Mark Reynolds told Thomson, “If you get into trouble we’ll leave you, yes? You’re on your own,” words that later that day would ring frighteningly true.
Thompson sets the scene of the day which was tense but at first appeared not to hold much promise for action. Clearly this was a case of the quiet before the storm as their convoy set out:
Just two UN plus the local police white patrol car marked “Protocol” as escort, moving south through the peaceful areas of Homs, unmarked by war.
Barely ten minutes south from the city and it’s goodbye protocol. The last Syrian Army checkpoint is right on the main highway south to Damascus.
We’re headed west – just follow the direction the tank barrel is pointing next to the parked protocol car and you get the idea.
There’s always that slight tightening of the stomach across deserted no-mans-land, but this is open country, no sign of fighting.
Presently, the first motorbike picks us up and we are across and into the first Free Syrian Army checkpoint.
After a long and dusty half-hour of tracks across olive groves, we arrive at al Qusayr, to the predictable crowd scene.
The U.N. officials settle down for a long meeting with local leaders, as Thomson and his colleagues wait outside.
But time drags. Our deadline begins to loom. And there’s this really irritating guy who claims to be from “rebel intelligence” and won’t quite accept that we have a visa from the government.
In his book foreign journos are people smuggled in from Lebanon illegally and that’s that. We don’t fit his profile.
He and his mates are making things difficult for our driver and translator too – their Damascus IDs and our Damascus van reg are not helping.
This is new. Different. Hostile. This is not like Homs or Houla and still the UN meeting drags on in the hot afternoon…
We decide to ask for an escort out the safe way we came in. Both sides, both checkpoints will remember our vehicle.
As is characteristic of war zones, Thomson describes an unexpected turn of events:
Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind.
We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s-land.
At that point there was the crack of a bullet and one of the slower three-point turns I’ve experienced. We screamed off into the nearest side-street for cover.
There was no option but to drive back out onto the sniping ground and floor it back to the road we’d been led in on.
Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared.
Without the ability to access the Free Syria Army fighters, The Blaze cannot verify if the rebels indeed were targeting Thomson and his team, or if they too were caught off-guard by Syrian Army forces. Thomson has no doubt:
I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.
That conviction only strengthened half an hour later when our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side-street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead.
An Arab League observer to Syria Nawaf Al Thani tweeted to Thomson that he believes he was similarly “set up” by Syrian rebels earlier this year.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports at least nine journalists have been killed in Syria since November, making it “the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.”
Thomson says he believes “it was nothing personal.”
(H/T: Arutz 7)