Syrian journalist attacked by IS in Turkey dies

AP News
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Posted: Apr 12, 2016 3:29 PM
Syrian journalist attacked by IS in Turkey dies

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Syrian journalist who was shot in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group died from his wounds Tuesday, a close friend said.

The death of Halab Today TV presenter Mohammed Zahir al-Sherqat marks the fourth assassination of a Syrian journalist in Turkey claimed by the extremist group.

Sherqat, who was shot in the neck from close range on Sunday while walking on a street, died in a hospital in Gaziantep near the Syrian border, according to his friend Barry Abdulattif, a Syrian activist.

Friends told the AP that the journalist had received death threats as recently as two months ago from IS extremists.

IS claimed the attack on Monday via the IS-affiliated Aamaq news agency, which said Sherqat "used to present anti-Islamic State programs."

The journalist came to Turkey in 2015 after surviving an assassination attempt in Syria and started to work with Halab Today. His programs took a stance against extremist groups.

Sherqat, a native of the Syrian town of Al-Bab, was an imam who studied Islamic Law at Damascus University, Abdulattif said. When the Syrian revolution started in 2011, he was a founding member of the local coordinating committee of Al-Bab and a field organizer of demonstrations against the Syrian regime. He later formed the Abu Bakr Al-Sadiq Brigade which fought under the banner of the opposition Free Syrian Army.

When extremist groups Al-Nusra and IS appeared in Al-Bab, Sherqat opposed them, according to Abdulattif, who is also a native of the town.

The killing of Sherqat follows the assassinations last year of two Syrian journalists who were found with their throats slit in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa and a third journalist who was shot dead in the street in Gaziantep. The attacks have prompted media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders to urge Turkish authorities to protect exiled Syrian journalists in the country.

"The situation is very bad, we don't feel safe," Abulattif said. "We know there are a lot of sleeper (IS) cells in Turkey and elsewhere but it is not easy to catch them."

Another friend and activist from Al-Bab living in Gaziantep, Marwan Shawy, shared that concern. He said Turkey's latest policies toward Syrians — including restrictions on their movements between cities and tightened border controls — are doing little to improve safety.

"Whatever they are doing so far is not working," Shawy said. "The last two (IS-related) incidents were shots in broad daylight and no one was caught."

Many Syrian activists based in Gaziantep or other cities near the border report receiving threats from IS, yet most do not have a financially viable or legal way out of Turkey. Complicating matters, a controversial deal between Europe and Turkey, home to 2.7 million Syrians, recently came into effect with the aim of curbing the flow of migrants to Europe.

Turkish authorities haven't commented on the murder of Sherqat.

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This story has been corrected to show the accurate full name of the brigade is Abu Bakr Al-Sadiq Brigade, not Abu Bakr Brigade.