SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham militants abduct US journalist Bilal Abdul-Kareem and driver in Syria

Tuesday , 18 August 2020

On August 13, 2020, in the northern Syrian town of Atmeh, masked militants with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an Al-Qaeda offshoot formerly known as Al-Nusra Front, abducted Bilal Abdul-Kareem, a U.S. independent journalist and activist who runs the social media-based news agency On the Ground News, according to news reportsand social media posts by On the Ground News.


The militants also abducted Mohammad al-Homsi, known as Abu Mohammad, a driver for the outlet, according to those reports. On the Ground News tweeted that the pair’s location is unknown.

 

The day after the abduction, On the Ground News tweeted a video featuring Abdul-Kareem’s step-son Jihad, who said that Abdul-Kareem and al-Homsi had finished praying at a mosque on the outskirts of Atmeh when two cars stopped nearby and armed masked men came out of them.


“Abdul-Kareem tried to flee, but they pointed their guns at him. I ran away and they were unable to arrest me. They beat them severely and handcuffed them,” Jihad said.


The abduction followed On the Ground News’ August 11 publication of an interview Abdul-Kareem conducted with Racquell Hayden-Best, the wife of Idlib-based British aid worker Tauqir Sharif, who was recently abducted and allegedly tortured by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.


On the day of his abduction, Abdul-Kareem tweeted a video accusing the militant group of torturing Sharif in a prison in June.


Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s media relations office said that an arrest warrant had been issued for Abdul-Kareem and “a number of allegations” against him were being investigated, according to the news website Middle East Monitor. CPJ messaged the media relations office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.


Abdul-Kareem has been injured previously while working in Syria, according to CPJ research. In 2018, he sued the U.S. government, alleging he was on a “kill list” after being targeted by U.S. airstrikes because of his frequent contact with al-Qaeda-linked militants, according to news reports. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2019 after the Trump administration invoked the “state secrets” privilege to withhold sensitive national security information, according to The Washington Post.

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