Paris prosecutor probes reporter's death in Syria

January 13, 2012 - 11:38 AM
Syria France

This is an undated photo provided Wednesday Jan.11, 2012 by France 2 television shows French television reporter Gilles Jacquier, at an unknown location who has been killed Wednesday Jan 11, 2012 in unknown circumstances in Homs, Syria. France 2 says Jacquier, was on an Syrian government-authorized reporting trip to the Arab country at the time of his death. Another member of the reporting team was uninjured. (AP Photo) NO SALES

PARIS (AP) — Paris prosecutors said Friday they have launched a preliminary murder investigation over the death of a French TV journalist in Syria, with his network raising questions about a suspect military escort.

The French government, human rights groups and the Syrian opposition have all demanded an inquiry into the death Wednesday of 43-year-old Gilles Jacquier in a barrage of grenades in the restive city of Homs.

The award-winning correspondent for France-2 Television was the first Western journalist killed in the 10-month-old uprising. Jacquier was among a group of 15 journalists on the government trip when they were hit by the grenades; up to eight Syrian civilians also were reported killed.

Thierry Thuillier, the editorial director for France-2's parent company France Televisions, said in an interview posted on its Web site that the shots fired were "accurate" and the French crew had not wanted to go to Homs.

"For us, this scenario raises many questions about the origin of the shots, the target aimed at," said Thuillier. "These journalists were part of a convoy under an escort — very tightly contained."

"When the firing started, the Syrian soldiers backed away, leaving the journalists exposed and alone. Why? I don't have the answer. The editorial staff, France Televisions (and) the families want this answer," Thuillier said.

Thullier, speaking on the network's lunchtime news program, made the comments after confirming he had received accounts of the incident from journalists who traveled to France along with Jacquier's body.

French judicial officials, who confirmed the prosecutor's investigation opened Friday, said an autopsy was planned later in the day.

The U.N. estimates more than 5,000 people have been killed since Syria's uprising began in March, and much of the violence has been from security forces firing on unarmed protesters.

On Dec. 27, an Arab League team of observers began work in Syria to offer an outside view of whether the government is abiding by its agreement to end the military crackdown on dissent. The Syrian government has been accused of interfering with the team's work.

Syria has banned almost all foreign journalists since the start of the uprising, and only recently started issuing short-term visas for a limited number of journalists, who are allowed to move only accompanied by government minders.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA has said the Syrian government-organized tour for journalists, including Jacquier, came in the framework of its acceptance for foreign media "to move freely" in Syria.