Two Western Journalists Killed in Syria

They died in intense shelling in Homs while other journalists were injured.

ByABC News
February 22, 2012, 8:06 AM

Feb. 22, 2012 -- A U.S. and a French journalist were killed in the central Syrian city of Homs today, the 19th day of intense shelling by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad bent on quashing a growing opposition.

The deaths of American Marie Colvin and Frechman Remi Ochlik were confirmed by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. They come less than a week after New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died in northern Syria from an apparent asthma attack and a day after well-known Syrian opposition Rami al-Sayed journalist died in Homs.

A Long Island native, Colvin wrote for the British Sunday Times. Like Shadid, she was considered one of the best foreign correspondents in the world, covering global conflicts for decades. Ochlik was a freelance photographer who recently won a 2012 World Press Photo prize for a photo from the Libyan revolution.

In a statement, the editor of the Sunday Times called Colvin an "extraordinary figure."

"She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice," John Witherow wrote. "Above all, as we saw in her powerful report last weekend, her thoughts were with the victims of violence."

Colvin's last piece on Feb. 19 in The Sunday Times detailed the violence and atrocities in Homs.

"The scale of human tragedy in the city is immense," she wrote. "The inhabitants are living in terror. Almost every family seems to have suffered the death or injury of a loved one."

The story also described her entrance into the besieged city.

"I entered Homs on a smugglers' route, which I promised not to reveal, climbing over walls in the dark and slipping into muddy trenches.... They bundled me into an open truck and drove at speed with the headlights on... Inevitably, the Syrian army opened fire. When everyone had calmed down I was driven in a small car, its lights off, along dark empty streets, the danger palpable. As we passed an open stretch of road, a Syrian army unit fired on the car again with machineguns and launched a rocket-propelled grenade. We sped into a row of abandoned buildings for cover."

In a private email Colvin sent Monday night to Jeremy Bowen, the BBC's Middle East editor, she said that her most recent article was why she was a journalist.

"I thought yesterday's piece was one of those we got in to journalism for. They are killing with impunity here, it is sickening and anger-making," Colvin wrote.

Colvin and Ochlik, 28, were in a house in the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, the district hit hardest by what residents have described as almost three weeks of relentless shelling that has left hundreds dead. Video posted to YouTube purported to show their bodies in a house destroyed by tank shelling.

Activists say 10 Syrians were also killed and three other journalists were injured, including Colvin's photographer Paul Conroy, who the Times believes is "not too seriously hurt."

Colvin, 55, filed a report for the BBC Tuesday, saying Baba Amr and its residents are besieged. "It's absolutely sickening," she said. "The Syrians will not let them out, and are shelling all the civilian areas.

"There's just shells, rockets and tank fire pouring into civilian areas of this city. It is just unrelenting."

Colvin lost an eye from a shrapnel wound in Sri Lanka in 2001, an injury that she said "is worth it" in a 2010 speech on the dangers of conflict reporting.

"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death ... and trying to bear witness," she said at a memorial for fallen journalists.

"Someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you."

Covering Syria's 11-month-long uprising has been a difficult task for journalists, who have been granted little access to the country. For several weeks in late December and January during an Arab League observer mission, the Assad regime granted media visas to numerous media outlets. But as the violence has gotten worse in recent weeks, legal access to the country has been virtually non-existent.

In a speech, Assad criticized the December exclusive ABC News interview Barbara Walters conducted with him, citing it as an example of international media bias. ABC News' request for new visas has gone unanswered.

So a handful of news organizations have taken great risks in sneaking into cities like Homs and Idlib in the north to witness the widespread crackdowns and growing armed resistance by defected soldiers and civilians.