Journalist Alex Thomson reports that Syrian rebels set him and his crew up to be killed by Syrian troops in a bid to show Damascus in a negative light.
Thomson, a chief correspondent for Channel 4 news, says he and his group were deliberately given incorrect directions by a group of Syrian rebels. As a result, their car entered a free-fire zone, where the road ahead was blocked off, and started receiving shots presumably fired by the Syrian army, who thought the vehicle belonged to rebels.
“Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow,” he wrote on the channel’s website. “We move out behind. We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man’s land.”
They then tried to escape the attack by driving onto a nearby side-street, but it turned out to be dead end. Eventually, they returned to the road where the group of rebels had seen them off.
“Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we re-appeared,” Thomson noted.
Thomson said he was sure the rebels were eager to get him and his crew killed in order to have the international community blame Damascus for the death of Western reporters.
“I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus,” he stated.
Thomson’s mission to Syria was unique in a way, as he was reporting on both sides of the conflict, interviewing both Assad loyalists and rebels. In fact, he was in the country on a legal visa, issued by the Syrian government.
The reported incident comes just days after as many as 78 people were killed in the village of Mazraat al-Qubair in the Hama province. UN monitors that tried to asses the massacre were shot at.
‘Both sides involved in very dirty tactics’RT did an extensive interview with Thomson on the details of his ordeal, and the situation in the country in general.
RT: What you are basically saying is that rebel forces set you up to be shot at by the Syrian army?
Alex Thomson: I have no doubt in my mind what happened, nor independently, does the very experienced cameraman I was with, and, perhaps more importantly than that, neither does the driver or the translator we were working with have any doubt at all that we were deliberately led out of that town, which the rebels knew was dangerous. We were led there in a car with four men. Two or three of them were armed. They told us to go down a route which looked dangerous to us, but we trusted them, we said we would go down the route and turn. We turned and found it was blocked. That was a roadblock which they had to have known was there. There was nobody around and at that point we were forced to turn the vehicle around in a free-fire zone and were duly fired upon. We were definitely exposed to a dangerous situation. And I have absolutely no doubt they did it deliberately. When we reappeared, still alive, the car full of men saw us, turned round and drove off at speed.
RT: So the car you were in, the Syrian army had no way to tell that you were foreign journalists?
AT: We did have a small sign in the windscreen saying press. We did not mark the car up with large letters saying TV or anything like that. There were very few journalists in this area. We were the only ones, so I think we were moving under conditions of reasonable safety.
RT: Why did you trust the rebel forces in the first place?
AT: We had no reason not to trust the rebel forces any more than we had any reason not to trust the Syrian army. By and large, when we spoke to Syrian people on both sides of the war, they were pretty honest and pretty straightforward in their assessments of the situation. That was the situation in places like Homs, on both sides, in Houla, on both sides. It was certainly the case on one side in al-Qubair. But when we got to the rebel side of al-Qubair, there was something different and for the first time, we encountered a degree of hostility and suspicion about us, because they had never seen foreign journalists who had a visa from Damascus, who were in the country legally, not illegally. And that immediately aroused suspicion on their part.
RT: So most foreign journalists are there illegally?
AT: That’s a fact. Most foreign, Western journalists who cover the war from the rebel side are smuggled in from Lebanon and so forth illegally to the country. It is very unusual, almost unheard of, to do the kind of things that we were doing, which is to go from Damascus, cross the lines with the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and talk to both sides.