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Slain journalist's sister: I knew it had to be deliberate
03:53 - Source: CNN

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Marie Colvin entered Syria illegally, Assad says

The war correspondent died in a rocket attack four years ago

CNN  — 

Relatives of the late American war correspondent Marie Colvin have filed a lawsuit against the Syrian government led by Bashar al-Assad, accusing senior officials of hunting down the journalist in a “conspiracy,” court documents obtained by CNN show.

Colvin’s relatives sued the President and his government last week, accusing senior officials of hunting down the journalist and killing her in a rocket attack four years ago.

In the wrongful death complaint, relatives said the attack was premeditated and aimed at silencing journalists in a bid to crush the political opposition.

But the President said his government had nothing to do with the killing and did not even know the celebrated journalist.

“No, very simply,” Assad told NBC News in an interview posted on state media Thursday.

“The army forces didn’t know that Marie Colvin existed somewhere because before that we hadn’t known about Marie Colvin.”

‘She came illegally to Syria’

Assad accused the journalist of entering Syria illegally, saying his government is only responsible for those who enter the country lawfully.

“It’s a war and she came illegally to Syria, she worked with the terrorists and because she came illegally, she’s responsible of everything that befell her,” he told NBC News in the interview later posted on Syrian state media.

“The rocket attack was the object of a conspiracy formed by senior members of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” the documents say.

They claim that Colvin, 56, and other journalists were tracked and that broadcast signals had been intercepted by the Syrian military intelligence department “to determine the location of the Media Center.”

The journalists had set up a makeshift media center in the Baba Amr neighborhood in the city of Homs, where they reported on the suffering of civilians in the city besieged by the military.

Marie Colvin’s final CNN interview in full

Tips from intelligence sources

In February 2012, Syrian forces launched a campaign against the neighborhood with artillery and sniper fire, according to the court documents.

French journalist Remi Ochlik also died in the strike, while British photographer Paul Conroy, Syrian activist Wael al-Omar and French journalist Edith Bouvier were injured.

The documents claim that throughout February 2012, “the Assad regime received tips from intelligence sources in Lebanon that Colvin and other foreign journalists were traveling to Syria through Lebanon and reporting from the Baba Amr Media Center.”

Throughout the civil war, the Syrian regime has denied targeting innocent civilians – though it has referred to members of the opposition as “terrorists.”

Colvin’s relatives claim that there were “no lawful military targets,” such as armed rebels, in the vicinity of the media center.

The strike occurred before rebel groups such as Al Nusra and ISIS gained a strong presence in the city, the documents say.

Symbol of fearlessness

The celebrated war correspondent for Britain’s Sunday Times had already been wounded in a conflict zone, losing her left eye when she got hit with shrapnel during her coverage of the Sri Lankan conflict in 2001.

She wore a patch on that eye, which became a symbol of her fearlessness.

Just hours before her death, she gave one of her final interviews to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, in which she spoke of her anger and fear when faced with the shelling of civilians in the city.

She said It was “a complete and utter lie that they’re only going after terrorists” in the interview.

The Center for Justice & Accountability filed the suit on behalf of Colvin’s sister and niece in Washington. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

“The baby’s death was just heartbreaking,” she said in the interview. “We just watched this little boy, his little tummy, heaving and heaving as he tried to breathe. It was horrific. My heart broke.”

CNN’s Angela Dewan and Lisa Rose contributed to this report.