The hardest part of covering a story on the targeted killing of an activist is convincing loved ones to speak on the record.
The surprising part then, of covering Syrian activist Naji al Jurf’s murder, was that his friends were willing to speak to us on camera.
And so we met Aref Krej, a Syrian activist and part time fixer, at the site of Naji’s murder.
‘He was shot here in the head’, said Krej, who looked much older than his twenty-three years. Aref had known Naji since both had moved to the Turkish city of Gaziantep from Syria, after the civil war started in 2011.
Antep as it is widely known in Syrian expat circles, is an hour’s drive from the Syrian border, its proximity has made it a hub for Syrian dissidents. It has also made it a gathering point for DAESH, the terrorist group in control of parts of Syria – including the city of Raqqa – its de-facto capital.
‘Naji wanted to expose the atrocities DAESH was committing against the people of Raqqa’, Krej told us on a chilly afternoon in early January in Gaziantep. The Syrian activist community was reeling and in shock from Naji’s murder a few days earlier.
‘Naji’s murder is a message’, Krej told TRT World.
‘I have two daughters and I love life. I don’t want to die’, Naji had recorded this message months before he was killed, in the face of mounting threats.
He’d started receiving threats after becoming involved with a collective that was trying to smuggle out stories in videos and pictures from DAESH held areas. Naji himself had finished work on a documentary on DAESH atrocities in the city of Aleppo, shortly before his murder.
Naji was the third Syrian activist to have been murdered in Turkey within three months. His friend Ibrahim Qader, the founder of the group ‘Raqqa is being silently Slaughtered’, was beheaded by DAESH in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa.
The group highlighted personal stories of life under DAESH in Raqqa, and DAESH had threatened Qader repeatedly in the months before his gruesome murder, which was recorded and published on twitter.
‘I look over my shoulder every time I leave home’, said Tahir Miqresh – another Syrian activist living in Gaziantep. Miqresh is the editor of Qasioun.net, an online news wire service based out of Antep, which covers stories out of Syria, mostly on DAESH and the Syrian regime.
‘We are living in fear after Naji and Qader’s murder’, Miqresh told TRT World.
He said the fact that DAESH can target activists with liberty is further silencing criticism of the group. ‘There are stories of grave injustice that DAESH is committing in Syria that can not be told, because the messengers are being killed’, said Miqresh. He said, ‘But I will continue resisting the urge to stop exposing the truth of DAESH.’
‘I love my daughter’ Aref Krej said showing me a picture of a baby girl with big piercing eyes. He told me he’d be more careful in what he says and does for her sake.