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Syrian regime 'assassinated' American journalist Marie Colvin, court told

Marie Colvin was 56 when she was killed by shelling in Homs [Getty]

Date of publication: 10 April, 2018

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A report was submitted to a US court with new evidence alleging journalist Marie Colvin was assassinated by the Assad regime in 2012.
The family of an American journalist who died in Syria in 2012 say she was targeted and killed by the Assad regime, according to newly filed court documents.

Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin, who lost sight in one eye when she was working in Sri Lanka, died in February 2012 in Homs province under suspected regime shelling.

French photographer Remi Ochlik was killed in the same attack.

The legal action filed on Monday is the first war crimes-related case against the Syrian regime to reach court.

The claim, which draws on evidence from Syrian army defectors, says Colvin was "assassinated" by the regime as part of a campaign targeted journalists in the war-torn country.  

The claim said: "This deliberate, malicious conduct by the regime was undertaken in blatant violation of established rules of international law, and constitutes an extrajudicial killing."

The report was submitted to the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

Some defectors alleged the Syrian regime knew journalists' whereabouts through satellite tracking. 

"I warned her that the regime was certain to take over the neighbourhood and asked her if she was sure she wanted to go back," according to a declaration by Wael Fayez al-Omar, a Syrian who agreed to interpret for her – to which Colvin replied: "I am not worth more than the children dying there." 

The declaration also said that a number of European journalists had arrived at Baba Amr in Homs, putting them at a higher risk of being targeted by Assad forces.

Filmmaker Mary Rogers, journalists Janine di Giovanni, Marie Colvin and Molly Bingham (L-R) at the 'Bearing Witness' screening in 2005 [Getty]

Scott Gilmore, the Colvin family's lawyer, reiterated initial suspicions the Assad regime deliberately targeted her as a part of a campaign against journalists.

He said the documents included evidence that Assad's government had "identified media workers as targets from very early on in the conflict", with Colvin's name on their radar. Those who attacked journalists were awarded with promotions if they were in the Syrian military, or if they were militia leaders, they were given rewards such as cars.

Marie Colvin was a dog and now she's dead. Let the Americans help her now

"Marie Colvin was a dog and now she's dead. Let the Americans help her now," a Syrian military intelligence offer said, according to Gilmore.

A British photographer who was injured in the same attack, said he was previously warned the Syrian government released orders "to kill any Western journalists found in Homs".

"Though Marie and I discussed the risks, it was the nature of what we did as war reporters to be as cautious as possible, but to move forward in order to expose the truth about what was happening inside Syria," Paul Conroy said.

The Syrian government has declined to respond to US courts over the claim. Assad has previously said that Colvin was responsible for her own death because she had entered the country illegally and was working with "terrorists".

"Marie did not believe in reporting from a distance"

Colvin's death was described by her sister, Cathleen Colvin, as a cold, deliberate and well-calculated plan by the Syrian regime to kill and silence journalists reporting on war atrocities.

"I'm not the only one who lost a sister," she told The New York Times in 2016, "I really do hope that all the perpetrators are brought to justice for war crimes, and hopefully this is the first step."

Her declaration to the court papers elaborated on Colvin's passion for reporting.

"Marie did not believe in reporting from a safe distance.  She was moved by the people she met and was driven by her desire to bring their stories to life in a way that would capture the attention of her readers and motivate them to take action," Cathleen said. 

"Marie viewed it as her job to make the world aware of the impact war had on civilians, despite the risk. Occasionally, she also viewed it as her job to take action herself."

Because of the nature of her work, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder, Cathleen added.

After she was killed, Syrian activists hid Colvin's body, fearing the Assad regime would find it.

"They made sure someone stayed with Marie at all times, they cared for her body, moved it to safer or colder locations, and found ways to get word to us," Cathleen said.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria. 

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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