Japanese journalist killed covering Syria fighting

August 21, 2012

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese journalist has been killed in Syria while covering the civil war there, Japan’s government said Tuesday.

Mika Yamamoto, a veteran war correspondent with The Japan Press, an independent TV news provider that specializes in conflict zone coverage, was killed Monday in the northwestern city of Aleppo, said Masaru Sato, a spokesman with the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo.

Sato said the 45-year-old was hit by gunfire while she and a colleague were traveling with the rebel Free Syrian Army, which is trying to topple the regime of President Bashar Assad. A video posted on YouTube on Monday by an activist in Syria shows the body of an Asian woman inside a van wrapped in blankets with only her face showing.

An Associated Press reporter who had worked with Yamamoto and who viewed the video confirmed her identity. Yamamoto had covered the war in Afghanistan after 2001 and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq from Baghdad as a special correspondent for NTV, according to Japan Press’ website.

In the YouTube video, Capt. Ahmed Ghazali, a rebel fighter in the northern Syrian city of Azaz, says the Japanese journalist was killed by regime forces in Aleppo. “We welcome any journalist who wants to enter Syria,” Ghazali says. “We will secure their entry, but we are not responsible for the brutality of Assad’s forces against the media.”

Expressing frustration that the international community has not intervened in the Syria conflict, which activists say has killed more than 20,000 people since March 2011, Ghazali says he hopes the journalist’s death will encourage international action.

“I hope that these countries that have not been moved by Syrian blood will be moved by the blood of their people,” he says. Ghazali also said two other journalists were captured by Syrian government forces in Aleppo, including a reporter with Al-Hurra TV named “Bashar.”

A statement from Springfield, Virginia-based Al-Hurra said the video referred to correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal. The company has not been able to reach either man since they entered Syria on Monday morning.

“We are currently working to gather more information about their status. The safety and wellbeing of our journalists is of utmost concern to us,” the statement said. Yamamoto’s body has been transferred to Turkey, where Japanese consular officials were providing assistance, Sato said.
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Associated Press writer Ben Hubbard in Syria contributed to this report.

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