IED attack kills journalist in southern Syria for second time in a week

AMMAN: A roadside explosive killed a prominent opposition journalist for a US-backed media organization in rebel-held southern Syria on Monday, the second IED attack on a local member of the media in four days.

A regional director for the US-backed Syrian Media Organization (SMO) was driving on a road in the rebel-held eastern Daraa countryside when an improvised explosive device (IED) planted on the road detonated, according to an SMO statement released a few hours later.

Osama a-Zouabi, his brother and nephew all died at the scene. At the time of the publication, no party had claimed credit for the attack.

The SMO is the official media outlet for the Southern Front, a coalition joining dozens of rebel groups in Daraa province and nearby opposition-held territory. The Southern Front reportedly receives US funding through the Amman-based Military Operation Center (MOC).

The media director had “a very special place in Daraa province, one of the most important journalists and activists covering southern Syria,” Mohammed, a correspondent for a pro-opposition news outlet who frequently collaborated with a-Zouabi, told Syria Direct on Monday. Mohammed asked that his full name and place of employment not be mentioned, out of fear for his own safety.

Residents pour into the streets for Osama a-Zouabi’s funeral on Monday. Photo courtesy of Mohamad Nour.

Just three days earlier, an IED on a nearby road, 9km from the site of Monday’s attack, killed Hayan al-Aamari, a war correspondent and freelance journalist in the eastern Daraa countryside.

The rebel-held eastern Daraa countryside has witnessed a relative calm over the past two months. Since a truce brokered by Russia, the US and Jordan went into effect in southern Syria on July 9, the region has witnessed a marked drop in rebel-regime clashes, airstrikes and artillery fire.

But two media activists and a member of the province’s Court of Justice told Syria Direct on Monday that rebel fighters, civil society members and now journalists continue to be killed by roadside explosives in the opposition-controlled eastern countryside. The perpetrators behind the wave of assassinations remain unknown.

“We’ve seen a number of rebel commanders and members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) killed,” said correspondent Mohammad, “but journalists being targeted with IEDs is something new.”

The Free Houran Society, a local media outlet in rebel-held Daraa, sent Syria Direct a video taken directly after Monday’s IED attack in the eastern countryside. The footage shows the remains of the explosive device and frayed wires within a rock-colored casing.

“We made the decision to establish patrols and place security checkpoints along the roads after civilians and military personnel were targeted by planted explosives,” Asmet al-Abassi, the president of the Court of Justice in Daraa, told Syria Direct on Monday.

Osama a-Zouabi. Photo courtesy of Osama al-Mokdad.

The issue, Abassi says, is that the province’s rebel factions only follow through on these security measures for a few days.

A slew of IED attacks in southern Syria killed five members of the Syrian Civil Defense earlier this year, Syria Direct reported at the time.

As for a-Zouabi’s long-time collaborator Mohammed, he says that Monday’s attack on the 30-year-old media director is just a testament to the dangers faced by journalists reporting in Syria.

“We know that we put ourselves at risk the first day we began working in media,” the correspondent said. “The bombardment, barrel bombs, assassinations, raids and arrests never stop following you.”

Syria is the fourth most dangerous country worldwide for journalists, according to 2017 rankings published by the France-based research and advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders.

This report is part of Syria Direct's month-long coverage of the state of the south in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and reporters on the ground in Syria. Read our primer on southern Syria here.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Tariq Adely

Tariq Adely graduated from Brown University in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in comparative literature and translation. He continued his studies at the Qasid Institute and the Institute for Critical Thought in Amman, Jordan.