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French criminal probe launched into journalist's Syria death

By the CNN Wire Staff
January 14, 2012 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A criminal investigation is opened in Paris into the death of journalist Gilles Jacquier
  • TV executives and the Paris prosecutor want "to shed light" on what happened
  • Syria has said it is investigating the incident, in which 8 Syrians also died
  • Jacquier's body has been returned to France and a funeral takes place next week

Paris (CNN) -- A criminal investigation has been launched in France into the death in Syria of a French journalist, television station France 2 said.

France 2 TV journalist Gilles Jacquier was killed Wednesday after a mortar shell struck the pro-government rally he was attending as part of a government-authorized tour of the city of Homs, his network said.

The involuntary homicide investigation in Paris follows a criminal complaint filed by the public prosecutor of Paris and the chief executive of France Televisions, the parent group of France 2.

They want "to shed light" on the circumstances around Jaquier's death, the France 2 statement said.

Thierry Thuillier, managing editor of France Televisions, is quoted as saying there were "disturbing" elements, particularly given the strict government controls under which the journalists were operating.

"For example, why, when the convoy of journalists was escorted militarily, why all of a sudden the military disappear at the time of the first shots?" he said.

Thuillier said that "for now, the Syrian government answers are not satisfactory," according to the statement.

Syria said Thursday it is setting up a commission of inquiry but Thuillier said it did not yet appear to exist.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition activist group, reported that three civilians had died Saturday in Homs, among them a child aged 13, and another in Idlib, all of gunshot injuries.

There has been widespread grassroots and international anger over the Syrian government's 10-month crackdown against peaceful protesters that has continued despite the presence of the Arab League observers. Opposition activists estimate the number of dead at more than 6,000.

The Arab League has called on Damascus to stop violence against civilians, free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities and allow outsiders, including members of the international news media, to travel freely around Syria. Its monitors are due to remain in Syria until January 19.

The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, told CBS's "60 Minutes" in a recent interview that Arab troops should be deployed to Syria to stop the killings.

Relatives accompanied Jacquier's body as it was flown to an airport near Paris Friday, to be greeted by Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand.

An autopsy was due to be carried out Friday. His funeral will take place next week in the village where he is from, the France 2 statement said, and a ceremony to honor him will be held in Paris.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe told France 2 on Thursday that Syria should have ensured the safety of the delegation of journalists it had invited to visit Homs.

An "investigation must establish the origin of these events, and in particular where the firing came from, who is responsible for this, so that we can then act accordingly," Juppe said.

Speaking to France TV Info, another part of the France Televisions group, Thuillier said Jacquier and his cameraman had not wanted to go to Homs, as their story was about the political situation in Damascus, but had been given little choice by the Syrian authorities.

The cameraman, Christopher Kenck, was injured by shrapnel just before the shell was fired that hit Jacquier, Thuillier said. Eight Syrians also died in the attack.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said Jacquier was among a delegation of international journalists visiting the city's Ekrima neighborhood "to document the damages left by terrorists on building with photos and interviewing citizens who were victims of terror in the city when armed terrorist member fired mortar projectiles on the delegation."

But the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an opposition force, disputed that description of events. It said security forces fired two shells at journalists from an infantry vehicle.

The Syrian government says it is combating "armed terrorists."

CNN's Pierre Meilhan and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

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