Syrian rebels seize Lebanese journalist over ‘incompatible’ reporting
Fidaa Itani, who works for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBCI) and several other news outlets, was travelling though Aleppo under protection of a rebel group when he was arrested and handed over to another rebel group which controls a small town some 30km away from the besieged port-city.
The rebels said on their Facebook page they found Itani’s work “incompatible with the path of the Syrian revolution and rebels.”
They promised to free the reporter “shortly” who is now in rebel custody – after the necessary documents and information are acquired.
Itani was seized after he raised suspicions, taking pictures and videos of “large amounts of operations” in Syria’s second largest city. The content of his reports also seems to fallen foul of how the rebels’ want the popular uprising against Bashar Al-Assad’s government should be covered.
“Reports and videos have not proven yet Itani's involvement with any party that works against the revolution, but his presence as a journalist no longer receives approval in areas controlled by the rebels,” the group said in a statement.
LBCI, as well as Lebanese MPs, are in contact with the group and their leader, Abu Ibrahim. They expect Itani to be set free in a couple of days.
Abu Ibrahim and the Azaz rebel group have abducted Lebanese nationals before. Eleven Lebanese pilgrims, who were returning from Iran through Syria, were kidnapped by the group in May. Only two of them have been released so far.
The rebels have used the term “detained” to describe the abduction of the journalist, but they in fact have committed “a criminal action” and “kidnapped” him, Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor-in-chief of the German monthly news magazine Zuerst, told RT.
“Indeed this is an alarming development but this is not new,” he said. “He is not the first journalist to have been kidnapped in Syria. We see a huge number of journalists that were killed by the rebels in Syria, who were killed by the Al-Qaeda related groups. I just want to remember the journalists of the Syrian TV channel, Syrian News TV where some journalist were killed and where the building was attacked at the end of June this year.”
Fidaa Itani (Image from facebook.com/fidaa.itani)
At the same time the Syrian government does not prevent journalists making reports that disagree with the official line, says Ochsenreiter, who himself had visited Damascus during the conflict.
“I was in Damascus and what I can say is that I met a lot of journalists who were not filing reports consistent with the official line of the Syrian government’s cause and they were not detained, they were not kidnapped, they were free to work in the country,” he said. “So, you see that there is a huge difference how journalists work in Syria and there is a monster huge difference in the risk.”
Itani was kidnapped just hours after the release of a video in which Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawari had called for Muslims to kidnap Westerners as a bargaining chip, to win the release of its members held captive around the world. In a new video posted online he also urged Islamists to support Syrian rebels with “all that they can.”
This is not the first a foreign reporter has gone missing in the Arab country since it plunged into civil unrest in March 2011. In one of the most recent incidents, Ukrainian reporter Anhar Kochneva disappeared several weeks ago and has not yet been freed. In total, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, three international reporters remain unaccounted for in Syria, while over 20 have been killed adding to more than 20,000 casualties suffered by Syria.