France on Friday opened a murder probe into the killing of a French journalist in Syria, amid suspicions of regime collusion in the first death of a Western journalist since protests began 10 months ago.
Judicial sources said a murder enquiry had been opened into the killing on Wednesday of 43-year-old France 2 television reporter Gilles Jacquier during a government-organised trip to Homs, a flashpoint for anti-regime protests.
Jacquier’s body arrived back in France on Friday morning and an autopsy was to be carried out later in the day after his death during a shelling attack in Homs while being accompanied by President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.
The head of French public television news, Thierry Thuillier, told AFP that there were “troubling elements” surrounding the death.
“For instance, why, while this journalists’ convoy was under military escort, why did the soldiers all of a sudden disappear just as the first shells were fired?”
“They went back, they withdrew from the place that was hit, leaving the journalists surrounded by civilians. Why?” Thuillier asked.
Damascus said Thursday that it will investigate his death, which the Syrian opposition said was the result of an orchestrated attack aimed at preventing journalists from covering the protests.
Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said France wanted “truth and justice” from the Syrian enquiry, about which “we have not been contacted by the Syrian authorities.”
“We demand guarantees of a reliable, independent, credible and transparent enquiry so that all light can be shed on this,” Nadal told journalists, declining to say whether he trusted Damascus to carry out the enquiry.
Nadal also called for the Syrian authorities to provide French investigators with “all the means to be able to independently probe the circumstances of this death.”
“We have no information about these circumstances,” he said.
French daily Le Figaro on Friday quoted a source close to President Nicolas Sarkozy implicating the Syrian regime in his death.
“We are inclined to believe this was an underhanded manoeuvre,” the source said, adding however that there was no proof Jacquier’s death was intentional.
“The Syrian authorities were the only ones who knew that a group of Western journalists were visiting Homs that day and in which neighbourhood they could be found,” the source said.
“We can believe this was an unfortunate accident. But it certainly works out well for a regime that is seeking to discourage foreign journalists and demonise the rebellion,” the source said.
An AFP photographer said Jacquier was killed when a shell exploded among some 15 journalists covering demonstrations in Homs. Eight Syrians were killed, said Syrian news agency SANA, and several other people were wounded.