GUNMEN RAIDED THE headquarters of a pro government Syrian TV station early this morning, killing seven employees, kidnapping others and demolishing buildings, officials said.
The rebels denounced what they called a “massacre against the freedom of the press” and held it up as an example of rebel atrocities.
The TV station, Al-Ikhbariya, is privately owned but strongly supports President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Pro government journalists have been attacked on several previous occasions during the country’s 15 month uprising, though such incidents are comparatively rare. Rebels deny that they target the media.
Information Minister Omran al-Zoebi told reporters that gunmen stormed the station compound in the town of Drousha, about 20 kilometres south of the capital Damascus, placed explosives and then detonated them. He said the attackers killed seven people and kidnapped others.
They also ransacked and destroyed the channel’s studios, including the newsroom which was completely destroyed, the Syrian Arab News Agency reports.
“What happened today is a massacre, a massacre against the freedom of the press,” al-Zoebi said in comments broadcast on state run Syrian TV. “They carried out a terrifying massacre by executing the employees.”
An Associated Press photographer who visited the compound said five portable buildings used for offices and studios had collapsed, with blood on the floor and wooden partitions still on fire. Some walls had bullet holes, he said.
An employee at the station said several other staffers were wounded in the attack, which happened just before 4 am local time. He said the gunmen kidnapped him along with several station guards. He was later released but the guards were not.
The employee, who did not give his name for fear of repercussions, said the gunmen drove him about 200 meters away, and then he heard the explosion of the station being demolished. “I was terrified when they blindfolded me and took me away,” the man said by telephone.
Earlier this month, two Ikhbariya employees were shot and seriously wounded by gunmen in the northwestern town of Haffa while covering clashes between government troops and insurgents.
Hours after the attack, the station was still on the air, broadcasting a rally in Damascus’ main square against the station raid.
- Additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy