GENEVA (AP) — Two Swiss journalists said Sunday that Syrian authorities were to blame for the death of award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, who was killed earlier this month in the restive city of Homs.
The 43-year-old correspondent for France-2 Television was the first Western journalist to die since the uprising began in March. Syrian authorities have said he was killed in a grenade attack carried out by opposition forces — a claim questioned by the French government, human rights groups and the Syrian opposition.
Patrick Vallelian of the weekly L'Hebdo and Sid Ahmed Hammouche of the daily La Liberte newspaper, who were with Jacquier the day he died, said they believed the attack was part of an elaborate trap set up by Syrian authorities.
"It felt like it was all planned in advance," Vallelian told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
He described how a group of foreign journalists including Jacquier were on their way to visit a hospital in Homs on Jan. 11 when their escort of Syrian soldiers and intelligence officials ordered them to make an unscheduled stop to interview traders in a pro-government part of the city.
Shortly afterward, an explosion was heard and soldiers told the foreign journalists to run to the detonation site to film what had happened, Vallelian said.
While Jacquier and others went to the site, Vallelian and Hammouche said they stayed behind, suspicious of the fact that the soldiers were encouraging journalists to move toward, not away, from the danger zone.
Hammouche, who speaks Arabic, said it appeared the soldiers had known in advance that the attack was going to happen. Plainclothes intelligence officials even predicted the site of a subsequent explosion before it occurred, he said.
"For me, it was a trap," said Hammouche.
According to the two Swiss journalists, other incidents that followed the attack also point to government involvement. These included the theft of Jacquier's notes on meetings with opposition supporters, and remarkably consistent accounts of the attack given by pro-government figures who weren't present when it happened.
Vallelian said he plans to meet next week with French police. Paris prosecutors have launched a preliminary murder investigation into Jacquier's death.
Syria has banned almost all foreign journalists since the start of the uprising, in which the United Nations estimates more than 5,000 people have died. Authorities recently started issuing short-term visas for a limited number of journalists, who are allowed to move only accompanied by government minders.