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Syria regime sued over death of war correspondent Marie Colvin

Published 10/07/2016

Marie Colvin was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012
Marie Colvin was killed in the besieged Syrian city of Homs in 2012

The family of the renowned Sunday Times war correspondent Marie Colvin have launched legal action against the Syrian government charging it with arranging her death in 2012.

The award-winning American journalist was killed in a rocket attack just hours after telling the world how Bashar al-Assad's army was "simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians".

According to a lawsuit filed in Washington, figures at the "highest level" of the Assad government were part of a conspiracy to attack a makeshift media centre used at the time by reporters in the besieged city of Homs.

The papers link the dictator's brother to the plan, which was designed to "surveil, target, and ultimately kill civilian journalists in order to silence local and international media as part of its effort to crush political opposition".

In February 2012 Ms Colvin, 56, travelled to the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs with British photographer Paul Conroy and Syrian translator Wael al-Omar on an assignment for The Sunday Times.

There they met activists, civilian journalists and bloggers reporting on the atrocities that were being carried out by government forces on a daily basis.

Their use of social media to share videos and stories earned the Syrian uprising the "Youtube Revolution", and a secret nerve centre for the group was set up on the ground floor of a three-storey house.

The papers state: "Throughout February 2012, the Assad regime received tips from intelligence sources in Lebanon that Ms Colvin and other foreign journalists were travelling to Syria through Lebanon and reporting from the Baba Amr Media Centre.

"Acting on these tips, senior members of the Assad regime formed a plan to intercept the journalists' communications, track their movement to locate the media centre, and kill the journalists with artillery fire."

On February 21, Ms Colvin made audio broadcasts via satellite dish to CNN, BBC News, and Channel 4 from the media centre, telling audiences around the world: "The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians."

According to the lawsuit Syrian intelligence forces intercepted the broadcast signals and traced it to a location inside Baba Amr.

A regime spy tipped off the leadership of the Homs Military-Security Committee that foreign journalists were at the centre and led them to its location.

When salvos of rockets and mortar fire were unleashed on the house the following morning the activists and journalists attempted to flee with their lives.

Ms Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed when a rocket slammed into the ground by the front door, sending shrapnel and splinters tearing through the house that severely injured Mr Conroy and Mr Omar.

According to the legal papers the plot to kill the journalists was drawn up by the Central Crisis Management Cell, a war cabinet set up by Assad.

The group included his brother, Maher Al-Assad, who commanded the elite 4th armoured division of the Syrian army.

The night before the attack the tip and plan of action was shared with his office, according to the papers.

The law suit is being brought by her sister, Cathleen Colvin, and her niece, Justine Araya-Colvin.

They claim that, as well as their personal loss, her assassination was "designed to intimidate and terrorise the civilian population of Syria, the victims' loved ones, other journalists, and the international community".

Ms Colvin worked for The Sunday Times for 25 years reporting on crimes against humanity and conflict around the world, including East Timor, The Balkans and Iraq.

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