American war correspondent Marie Colvin was deliberately targeted and killed by artillery fire in 2012 at the direction of senior Syrian military officers seeking to silence her reporting on civilian casualties in the besieged city of Homs, according to a civil lawsuit filed Saturday on behalf of her sister and other heirs.
Based on information from high-level defectors and captured government documents, the 32-page complaint alleges that the military was able to electronically intercept Colvin’s communications from a clandestine media center operating out of an apartment in the densely populated Baba Amr neighborhood in Homs. Syrian officials paired the intercepts with detailed information from a female informant to pinpoint the location of the reporter who worked for the Sunday Times of London.
Then, the suits says, military forces under the direction of President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher, commander of the Syrian army’s 4th Armored Division, launched a series of “bracketing” artillery attacks that came progressively closer to the media center, a classic artillery targeting tactic.
Colvin, 56, and French photographer Remi Ochlik, 28, were killed instantly after a shell landed outside the front door as they reached the bottom step of stairs leading to the foyer while trying to flee. Two other foreign journalists, including Times photographer Paul Conroy, were severely injured but later escaped.
The assault, the suit states, was part of a coordinated Syrian campaign developed in late 2011 to impose a media blackout on the war by killing and apprehending professional and citizen journalists whose work was reaching worldwide audiences.
Filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit asserts that Colvin was under surveillance by intelligence sources while she was in Lebanon preparing to sneak into Syria. A plan to kill her and other foreign journalists was formulated by the high-level Central Crisis Management Cell that Assad had charged with tracking and destroying opponents of his rule.
The plan was executed by the Homs units of the Syrian Republican Guard and Special Forces working with a paramilitary death squad known as the shabiha, Arabic for ghosts, the lawsuit asserts.
The complaint names nine military officers and Khaled al-Fares, the death-squad leader, as responsible for executing the extrajudicial killing of civilians, a violation of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and the international law of armed conflict, which considers it a war crime to deliberately kill civilians during war.
Maher Assad gave Fares a black luxury vehicle as a reward for the killing of Colvin and Ochlik, the lawsuit asserts.
“The thought that she was being watched the whole time, and she didn’t know it, is chilling,” said Cathleen Colvin, her sister and the lead plaintiff. “I feel really strongly that Marie was silenced, and I can’t let that stand without bringing her killers to justice. I’m sure if the roles were reversed, she would do the same and more.”
SOURCE: Dana Priest
The Washington Post