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Gilles Jacquier Dead: French Prosecutor Launches Preliminary Murder Investigation

Gilles Jacquier

PIERRE-ANTOINE SOUCHARD   01/13/12 01:04 PM ET   AP

PARIS — 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.

Thuillier, 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.

Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported Friday that Homs governor Ghassan Abdel al-Aal had decided to set up a committee to investigate the attack and would be made up of a judge, a local security chief, weapons experts and a France 2 representative.

However, France Televisions issued a statement Friday denying it would take part in the commission, and indicating that Syrian authorities had not contacted the French network about it.

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.

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.

Meanwhile, French media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said it was "circumspect" about the "real independence" of the commission, adding: "The utmost caution is still necessary."

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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

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Filed by Eline Gordts  |