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Michael Weiss

"The regime killed my husband"

Gilles Jacquier

France 2 foreign correspondent Gilles Jacquier was one of the first Western journalists to be killed in Syria in January 2012, as he and a regime-sanctioned delegation of reporters were allowed into the battleground city of Homs. Damascus blames his death on a mortar fired by rebels at his location in Zahira, an Alawite neighborhood of Homs. But now his widow, Caroline Poiron, who was with Jacquier the day he died, has just published a book, Attentat Express: Qui a Tue Gilles Jacquier?, in which she concludes that her husband was in fact murdered by the Syrian mukhabarat. NOW interviewed Poiron about her findings.

 

Why do you believe that the murder of your husband was premeditated and “commissioned”? What purpose did it serve, in your judgment?

 

There’s always multiple reasons. What was said and what is evident is that Gilles was there at the right time and the right moment for the regime. Killing him was a message sent to France, to the Arab League, and to the rebels. It was three birds with one stone. In November 2011, when Gilles asked for a visa from Damascus, nothing had yet been planned. But then it crescendoed. His murder was planned because the regime needed a distraction at that time. There were 175 journalists “officially” in Syria. There was the Arab League, about 80 or so men to manage. And there was an operation trying to be organized to take out the rebels from Baba Amr. The regime had already been trying to kill Anwar Malek, the Algerian delegate from the Arab League who defected when he saw how the League’s mission was being manipulated in Syria.

 

The Arab League report on Gilles’ death states: “Mission reports from Homs indicate that the French journalist was killed by opposition mortar shells.” 

 

The original Arab League report was first sent to Damascus and it said that Assef Shawkat [Bashar’s brother-in-law and the regime’s powerful security chief, technically Minister of Defense, who was assassinated in July 2012] told the Mission that rebels killed Gilles. Damascus made the League remove that from the report. We spoke to three Arab League delegates from the Mission who confirmed this to us. It’s in the book. The French investigation is still going on. If you talk to Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador to Syria, or to the French Defense Ministry, they will all tell you that France has made no determination on who killed Gilles. They need to send experts to Homs. So the [French] judge asked the Syrians to organize a group there. But justice moves very slowly in France.

 

You’ve said that Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Ali Mamluk, and Michel Samaha, who has been arrested in Lebanon for planning “terrorist” operations on the orders of Syrian intelligence, are all responsible for Gilles’ murder. Can you explain why? How did you identify them all?

 

Samaha was paranoid. For years, he’d recorded all his conversations with everyone he ever spoke to. When the lebanese secret service came into Samaha’s house, they found millions of hours of recordings, even many with his wife. The Lebanese secret service told me this. There were talks between Samaha and Gilles. It was how Gilles got his visa. Samaha was also in Damascus and met Gilles. I was there. He smiled at me. When you meet Samaha, you know this man has blood on his hand. He organized all the propaganda in the Christian quarter [of Damascus] for us to film. There was a Christian fixer, Mother Mary Agnes [a Carmelite nun notorious for spreading pro-Assad propaganda] working for the regime who eventually put us on the bus to Homs. She forced Gilles to go on the bus to film a report.

 

Gilles had tried everyone he could think of to get into Syria. He sent letters to the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of Defense, and the Republican Guard. He wanted to be embedded in the Fourth Armored Division led by Maher al-Assad, but Maher doesn’t like journalists - he’s a person who uses violence in any case. Because Gilles’ name popped up on a list, because they needed to send a message, they chose him.

 

We later questioned the Arab League observers, three of them. They spent 30 days in Homs and told us that in the hotel, where were staying, was also Assef Shawkat, preparing the demolition of Baba Amr. Shawkat always travels with 30 men around him, so there were all mukhabarat in the hotel, no one else. What was strange to us is that Gilles’ room was on the same floor as Shawkat’s, the fifth floor, yet all other journalists were staying on third or fourth floors. No one ever went to the fifth floor. We didn’t even know when we traveled to Homs that Shawkat was in our hotel. If Gilles had known this, he wouldn’t have gone out;  he’d have stayed and interviewed Shawkat. But otherwise, we only brought a little bag with us to Homs. Gilles didn’t want to stay in the hotel, he wanted to go to the frontline with the Syrian Army. And that’s what we did.

 

Shawkat wanted to meet to Gilles, either to spy on him or to interrogate him. Gilles was considered a spy. There’s a video the rebels obtained from the man they say is the the killer of Gilles. We don’t know if it’s real, but the [supposed killer] says on the video that when he has a mission, he gets a name and the reason why he kills the person – on paper, it says ‘Gilles Jacquier, agent.’

 

But if we’d have met Shawkat, then there might been another story. Maybe Gilles wouldn’t have been killed, maybe he’d have talked to Shawkat and gotten out of Syria alive.

 

OK, so tell me exactly how Gilles was killed that day.

 

When we left the hotel, the Fourth Armored Division was everywhere, there with Maher. Air Force intelligence was there. They identified Gilles, asked everyone around, “Who is he, where is he?” They brought us to where they wanted to kill him.

 

I was there, I was behind Gilles, five meters behind him. I know how he ran, I know why he ran. He ran because his cameraman was taken by 20 men to a location and Gilles, who can’t work without his cameraman, was trying to catch up. I said to Gilles, “Wait, wait, what are you doing? There’s a bombing.” I got to the same building as Gilles. The cameraman is isolated in another building. What the Syrian secret service does is, they isolate someone. What they did was easy. We went upstairs to the roof. Gilles was in front of me. Then they said, “Go, go, go – now!” So we went down. We heard bombs and didn’t know what was going on. Gilles went to the second floor, sees Christophe (his cameraman) standing in the street. He yells at him. Then Gilles went down to the first floor, met me, and we talked. He told me he was going to get Christophe. So he left me and went down to the ground floor where all the mukhabarat were. Then: boom! A loud sound went off. I went downstairs and Gilles was dead.

 

Gilles was killed inside the building by a either 22-millimeter gun that is carried by Syrian secret service or by a long knife. They killed him with their own hands. I kept his anorak after his death, I took photos, the [French] police took photos.

 

It’s impossible that a mortar or RPG killed Gilles because even though one was fired at the building, it caused no destruction inside. The door of the building was not damaged.

 

There was also something strange we noticed outside: a red car in front of the building which arrived just before us. It stopped exactly in front of the building. At the same time as the grenade or mortar was fired and at the same time the mukhabarat killed Gilles inside, something went off inside the car. However, the glass of the car window broke outward, not inward, indicating that whatever went off – we think it was a rifle shot – happened from inside the car.

 

This is what many have told us about the mukhabarat division. Each makes its own plan, they never take chances. There are contingencies in place in case one plan fails. Three different Syrian security services – Air force intelligence under the supervision of Shawkat; the Fourth Armored Division, under the supervision of Maher; and the General Directorate under the supervision of Ali Mamluk. They wanted to ensure that, however it happened, Gilles would not leave that building alive.

 

How did you decide on the co-authors of your book, Swiss journalists Patrick Vallélian and Sid Ahmed Hammouche?

 

They were with us in Homs. When I got Gilles’ body, we got out and I got into the taxi with him. Sid Ahmed Hammouche and Patrick Vallelian were 100 meters from us. Sid speaks Arabic. They stayed a little bit aside. They didn’t run to the site at first. We got the hospital with Gilles, the only journalists with us was Christophe, the cameraman, and Sid Ahmed Hammouche, who helped me protect the body. For nine hours we stayed in this room. Not even one moment did they bring us water. [The regime agents] were aggressive, they said, “If you don’t hand over the body, you’ll go to prison.” I told them, “You can do anything with me, but I stay with the body.” The French ambassador – once he got to the hospital in Homs, it was much safer.

A poster held up during a Syrian demonstration reads "Gilles Jacquier, victim of the free press. (Image via AFP)

"If you talk to Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador to Syria, or to the French Defense Ministry, they will all tell you that France has made no determination on who killed Gilles."

  • jim.jekyll

    If this really was a "regime killing", they would not have left her alive. Even YOUR employer would have done better!

    August 13, 2013

  • Vlad Tepes

    I only read the first two sentences of the first question, and I already knew this was bull. I understand the grieving woman is upset but now you turn her into some kind of folk hero to get people rilled up against the Syrian Regime. Do you have even the slightest bit of shame? I really doubt it. The woman has her beliefs are they are coming from many places but definitely not from logic. You're pretty pitiful.

    June 14, 2013