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Lebanese freelancer abducted by Syrian armed rebel group

UPDATE: Lebanese journalist Fidaa Itani was released on 31 October, six days after being abducted by an armed group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army in the north of Aleppo, Syria. (RSF, 14 November 2012)

(RSF/IFEX) - 27 October 2012 - Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about Fidaa Itani, a Lebanese freelance journalist who was kidnapped at a checkpoint between the Syrian town of A'azaz and the Lebanese border, and calls for his immediate release. His abduction has been confirmed by his brother.

A group calling itself the "A'azaz Northern Storm Brigade" posted a communiqué on its Facebook page today claiming responsibility for Itani's abduction.

It said: "It was established, after an investigation, that the journalist Fidaa Itani's work is incompatible with the revolution (...) so we have placed him under house arrest for a short period. He will be released when we have obtained the rest of the information we have requested about him."

Accompanied by a photo of Itani, the communiqué did not say when he was detained or where he is being held. "His reports and videos do not prove his involvement in groups hostile to the revolution, but his journalistic work does not allow him to remain in areas controlled by the revolutionaries," it added.

Reporters Without Borders calls for Itani's immediate and unconditional release and points out that journalism work is not supposed to be "compatible" with the vision of any of the forces in the field.

The journalist's brother, Hussam Itani, told Reporters Without Borders: "Fidaa was supposed to return to Beirut on 25 October. When I saw that he had not returned, I tried to call him and sent him texts. Getting no reply, I assumed there was a communication problem, until the Northern Storm Brigade published its communiqué this morning. I called a member of the brigade, who confirmed that they had Fidaa and were interrogating him. I was not allowed to speak to him."

Lebanon's National News Agency (NNA) also reported that Itani has been placed under "house arrest" and would be released "soon" by members of the Syrian opposition.

Itani works for the Lebanese TV station LBCI and other TV stations. He used to cover Salafist groups for the daily Al-Akhbar until he left the newspaper four months ago. He covered the Northern Storm Brigade's abduction of 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in August and got in touch with their abductors at the time.

Four other foreign journalists who were kidnapped in Syria are still being held by their abductors, if they are still alive. The latest victim before Itani was Ankhar Kochneva, a Ukrainian journalist who has worked for many Russian news media, especially as an interpreter. A Free Syrian Army faction kidnapped her on 9 October.

Two journalists who work for the US-funded Al-Hurra TV – Turkish cameraman Cüneyt Ünal and Jordanian reporter Bashar Fahmi Al-Kadumi – went missing in Aleppo on 20 August. Since then, the only sign of life has been video footage broadcast by the Syrian pro-government TV station Al-Ikhbariya on 27 August showing Ünal looking tired and with bruises under both eyes.

Austin Tice, a US freelancer who worked for the Washington Post, Al-Jazeera English and McClatchy, went missing while reporting in a Damascus suburb on 13 August. A video showing him held by Jihadis was posted online on 26 September. The video, which was the only sign of life since his disappearance, gave no indication as to where he is being held, exactly who is holding him and what their demands are.

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