Top Stories


    Jan 27, 2015

    Local 'guides' at Syrian border lure journalists


    S OME local "guides" who offer to act as mediators, helping foreign journalists gather information in areas controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), actually help the militant group to abduct them.

    In areas close to the border between Turkey and Syria, which serves as a gateway to the areas under ISIS control, there are local residents and anti-Syrian government activists who attempt to lure foreign journalists and others wanting to enter those areas by saying they can work as guides. Some have extensive knowledge of ISIS, but others abduct or help abduct foreigners as a business.

    Chaos is widespread in Kilis, a Turkish city near the border that the Turkish government cannot control or monitor properly. Kilis is close to Aleppo, the scene of fierce fighting in Syria. Most of the foreign journalists who were taken hostage, including Kenji Goto, entered Syria via Kilis.

    Mr Goto, 47, a Japanese hostage that ISIS threatened last week to kill, had told an acquaintance in Turkey that he was betrayed by a guide who accompanied him to Syria, and later captured by ISIS, AFP reported.

    Foreign journalists rely on local mediators who work as guides in Syria. Most of the mediators are former insurgent soldiers or anti-government activists who know the geography well or have personal connections with ISIS members.

    The guides are said to receive at least US$100 (S$135) a day in most cases. The monthly income of Syrian people amid the civil war is said to be about US$130.

    Some mediators have extensive knowledge of and information about ISIS and work as interpreters or guides. But others seek to sell such journalists to ISIS in exchange for large sums of money. ISIS has demanded ransoms for abducted foreign nationals or used them for its propaganda activities.

    Steven Sotloff, 31, an American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS in September last year, was captured by ISIS fighters after entering Syria.

    A Syrian who accompanied Mr Sotloff at the time told The Yomiuri Shimbun: "Our car was ambushed. Someone informed on us."

    An American colleague of Mr Sotloff told CNN that someone had sold information on his movements for between US$25,000 and US$50,000.

    Mr Goto headed for Raqqa in northern Syria after entering the country. A Syrian friend said that Mr Goto had told him: "I can probably find a guide in areas ruled by (ISIS)."

    "Without a relationship of trust with mediators, journalists are in danger," a 31-year-old mediator said.

    A 46-year-old French magazine reporter said: "News-gathering activities in Syria are impossible without mediators, but it's difficult to find mediators who are trustworthy."