Credit: (picture alliance / AP Photo) (Barry Abdullatif/AP/File)
On a Sunday evening in April 2016 Zaher al-Shurqat was walking along a busy street close to his apartment in the Turkish city of Gaziantep in south-west Anatolia. The masked offender approached him unnoticed from behind and shot him at close proximity in the neck. Shurqat collapsed. There is a video of the incident, recorded by the surveillance camera of a grocery store, which shows how the perpetrator turns around after the shot and disappears into the melee of the traffic.
Shortly afterwards, terrorist organisation IS declared that one of their fighters had carried out the attack.
It became a murder when, two days later, Zaher al-Shurqat died as a result of his injuries in a hospital in Gaziantep, which is close to the Syrian border. He leaves behind a wife and a young son.
Shurqat was Syrian, and he was well-known here. He worked as a presenter for television broadcaster Halab TV Today, a voice of the Syrian opposition against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Gaziantep, which inhabitants like to call Antep, is now home to large numbers of Syrian refugees. Here, alongside Turks and Kurds, there are also many Arabs, and it is a relatively safe place of retreat for members of the opposition in the neighbouring country. The attack on Shurqat shows just how relative this safety is, however, and this was not the first example of a Syrian journalist falling victim to an attack in Turkey. According to information from friends, Shurqat received death threats from IS because he took a stand against the terrorist militia in his programmes.
In 2015 he fled to Turkey from his home town Al-Bab after having already survived an attempt on his life there. Zaher al-Shurqat was actually a Muslim imam, who had studied Islamic law at the University of Damascus. When the protests against the Syrian regime began in 2011, he was among the founders of the opposition in Al-Bab and was one of the organisers of the demonstrations in the city. Later on, he joined a fighting unit, which fought with the Free Syrian Army against Assad. When members of extremist groups like Al Nusra and IS turned up in Al-Bab, however, he and his friends had them in their sights. Fleeing to Turkey saved him for the time being.
Here, he continued to fight, no longer using weapons but journalistic methods on Halab TV Today instead.
Following the attack and previous fatal attacks on media representatives, the organisation Reporters Without Borders called on the Turkish government to do more to protect Syrian journalists in the country. There are many IS “sleepers” in Turkey, who would be specifically positioned to attack liberal journalists from Syria, since they disseminate a true picture of IS’s terror, Shurqat friends report. They also felt they had insufficient protection from the Turkish authorities, they said, and have faced interference in the past. The investigations following the presenter’s murder have come to nothing.
A declaration by the US Secretary of State after Shurqat murder revealed just how seriously the American government of the time viewed the situation of Syrian journalists. The USA condemned the cowardly attack on the brave journalist, who had continually revealed the hypocrisy of IS, it said. The incident was an alarm call and the USA would support Turkey in all its efforts to find the perpetrators, it continued, stating: the freedom and security of journalists is of crucial importance in revealing the crimes of IS.
The declaration ended with a quote by the then US Secretary of State John Kerry: “We must stand up against those who attempt to intimidate and lock up journalists. We must say loudly and clearly that journalism and reporting the truth are not a crime. They are a mark of honour, a service to the public.” These words – so unlikely to be spoken by today’s US government – were also very clearly directed at Turkey.
written by Holger Schmale; DuMont-Hauptstadtredaktion
The Syrian Zaher al-Shurqat was a great enemy of the Syrian regime. At the beginning of the revolution in 2011, he himself led an oppositional movement in his home town Al-Bab, 20 kilometres away from Aleppo. Later he worked as a host for Halab Today TV. Death threats and a survived assault made him flee to Turkey in 2015 – like many from the opposition. He did not survive the second assault on him one year later. ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack.