Gunmen in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province have killed Raed Fares, a prominent activist who ran an independent radio station in the country’s last opposition stronghold.
Fares was shot on Friday along with his colleague Hamoud Juneid in the town of Kafranbel, according to their Radio Fresh station.
Fares and Juneid were “shot dead by unknown assailants riding a van in Kafranbel”, Fresh FM, which provides independent news and satirises both President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups, said in a post on Facebook.
Salman, a 33-year-old mathematics teacher, who witnessed the attack, told the Middle East Eye website that attackers in a van driving “at high speed … fired shots from a machine gun, before speeding away”.
Juneid died during the attack while Fares died of his wounds at the Orient Hospital, Middle East Eye reported.
Fares gained prominence early in the uprising against Assad, which began with mass demonstrations in 2011 and slid into civil war, with protest banners that drew international attention on social media.
The banners targeted Assad, his allies Iran and Russia, Western powers that Fares portrayed as selling out ordinary Syrians through their response to the crisis, and the various armed groups who had emerged in the chaos.
Fares, who survived a 2014 gun attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS) armed group, also distributed photographs and video clips showing the toll that war was taking in Kafranbel, providing a picture of life in rebel-held parts of Syria where it was dangerous for foreign media to visit.
In his last posts on Twitter on September 21, Fares wrote about a demonstration against “Russia, Assad and all kinds of terrorism”.
He also posted a picture of himself with his two sons at the rally as thousands took to the streets across Idlib to protest against a potential full-fledged offensive by government forces and their allies.
Kafranbel 21 Sep 2018
Me and my sons: Mohamad & Ahmad
Kafranbel Demonstration 😍😍 pic.twitter.com/uye23DCODy
— Raed Fares (@RaedFares4) September 21, 2018
Kafranbel: 21 Sep 2018
Demonstration against Russia, Assad and all kinds of Terrorism
the song says: "Syria will be a Free Country"
PART 2 pic.twitter.com/SvapeBdGRq
— Raed Fares (@RaedFares4) September 21, 2018
In an opinion piece in June in the Washington Post, calling for the United States to resume financial support for Radio Fresh, Fares wrote that “the terrorist groups [and the government] see us as a direct threat”.
He told Al Jazeera in 2015 that Radio Fresh was the “most beautiful and important thing” he ever did.
By his own account, his offices were targeted both by government bombardment and by armed groups, who abducted and tortured him several times.
But he told Al Jazeera that though he had the means to leave Syria, he intended to stay until Assad was defeated.
News of Fares’ killing triggered an outpouring of grief on social media.
Nasser Weddady, a US-based political analyst, called Fares’ death an “immense loss to the cause of freedom in Syria and beyond”, while Marietje Schaake, a member of the European Parliament, said she saw his “legacy as a task for all of us, to keep supporting Syrians who risk everything for democracy and liberty”.
R.I.P Raed Fares, the bravest nonviolent man I ever met. An immense loss to the cause of freedom in Syria and beyond. pic.twitter.com/C7ZZVVgaK0
— Weddady (@weddady) November 23, 2018
He survived an assassination attempt by ISIS, but more than enemies, Raed had many admirers. His loved ones and the people of Syria have lost in Raed an example, a man who chose to lead and speak up, despite the harshest repression. I wish his loved ones comfort and support 2/3
— Marietje Schaake (@MarietjeSchaake) November 23, 2018
Others described Fares’ death as a “calamity”.
The stream of terrible news continue to pummel us. Such an irreplaceable loss. Such a calamity.
— İyad el-Baghdadi | إياد البغدادي (@iyad_elbaghdadi) November 23, 2018
Awful news from Syria, that prominent activist Raed Fares from Kafranbel was assassinated alongside fellow activist Hammoud Jned. You will remember the pro-democracy banners and posters from Kafranbel, critical of the regime and Islamist extremists https://t.co/G4iYXhINBx pic.twitter.com/JLN5vk4oJb
— Joseph Willits (@josephwillits) November 23, 2018
More sad news from Syria. Raed Fares and Hammud Junayd, two of the sharp minds behind the great protest banners and activities in Kafranbel were assassinated overnight ( most likely by HTS). May their souls rest in peace.
— Haid Haid (@HaidHaid22) November 23, 2018
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based war monitor, has reported a succession of assassinations in Idlib over the past year targeting leaders from the area’s major factions and political dissidents who publicly disagree with their governance.
The Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham alliance is the most powerful of several groups present in Idlib province.
A Russian-Turkish deal to prevent further fighting in northwest Syria has for now averted a planned government offensive.