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No Safe Places In Syria: Photographer Abducted At Media Center

Syrians search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb on July 20.
Daniel Leal-Olivas
AFP/Getty Images
Syrians search for survivors under the rubble of a destroyed house after a barrel bomb was dropped from an air force helicopter in Saraqeb on July 20.

We're catching up with a harrowing story out of Syria about a Polish photographer who was kidnapped last week and is possibly being held for ransom. NPR's Rima Marrouch sent this report.

Photographer Marcin Suder was staying at a media center in the rebel-held town of Saraqeb in Idlib province when a group of masked men reportedly stormed in Wednesday morning. They beat a Syrian media activist, stole equipment and abducted Suder.

It's unclear who might be responsible for the kidnapping. According to The Associated Press, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Friday that it's likely Suder was taken by radicals seeking ransom and that the abduction "probably has the character of a robbery."

I spoke with Mohamad al-Khaled, an activist from Saraqeb who says he was at the media center when Suder was kidnapped. He says Suder had spent the previous day taking pictures of a woman and her daughter, who survived a cluster-bomb attack.

The Saraqeb media center is a small apartment where foreign journalists and activists from across Syria often stay during their assignments and visits. Like other Syrian media centers, it has a generator to produce electricity and is usually equipped with satellite Internet to send out stories and photographs.

These places sometimes give an illusion of comfort, with the Internet connection making it possible to have contact with friends and family. But there are no safe places in Syria. Three days before Suder's kidnapping, Saraqeb was hit by several airstrikes.

But Suder "felt he needs to be there," Khalid al-Issa, a photographer from the nearby town of Kafranbel, told me. He says Suder was staying in Kafranbel for a few days before heading to Saraqeb.

"I told him that Saraqeb is dangerous, but he said he is a war correspondent and he needs to be there," al-Issa said.

Syrian filmmaker Obeida Zyton told me: "We all used this network before. We stayed at the media center and we felt safe. Now, not any more."

Situated between Aleppo and Damascus, Saraqeb used to be a sleepy town of 40,000 people. Seventy percent of residents have fled because of airstrikes and fighting, according to Ahmad Kadour, a former law student turned activist from Saraqeb. He says the regular army lost control over the town last year and that it has become known for its colorful graffiti and wall writings such as this one: "The more death surrounds us, the more we know how to live."

According to Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press freedom group, Syria is the deadliest country for journalists. The center estimates that 28 journalists were killed in Syria last year and 21 were kidnapped.

Overall, the Syrian conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rima Marrouch
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