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Syrian militants urged to release US journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem

Idlib-based reporter was arrested six months ago after raising concerns about alleged torture of prisoners by HTS
Bilal Abdul Kareem has reported from opposition-held Syria since 2014 (Screengrab)

A leading media freedom monitor has called for the release of US journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem, six months after he was detained by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in northwest Syria's Idlib province.

HTS, a militant group formerly associated with al-Qaeda and which controls most of Idlib, arrested Abdul Kareem in August 2020 after he had criticised HTS over the alleged torture of prisoners including Tauqir Sharif, an Idlib-based aid worker from the UK.

Abdul Kareem is a Middle East Eye contributor who has been based in opposition-controlled Syria since 2014. His continued detention comes after a string of arrests by HTS of aid workers and journalists in Idlib. 

In January, HTS released prominent Syrian women's rights activist Nour al-Shalo, who had been detained in September 2020 on unknown charges.

"The CPJ is very concerned for Bilal Abdul Kareem's safety, especially considering six months have passed," Ignacio Miguel Delgado, Middle East and North Africa representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told MEE.

"We call on HTS to release him immediately and let him do his job freely without any further imprisonment."

MEE has contacted HTS for comment on Abdul Kareem's case.

Earlier this month, Moazzam Begg, the outreach director for UK-based human rights group Cage, who has campaigned for Abdul Kareem's release, said HTS had broken promises to release the journalist, adding that the American had missed the birth of his daughter while in captivity.

Begg's statement came after he had tweeted a month earlier that he hoped that Abdul Kareem's case would soon be resolved.

On The Ground News (OGN), Abdul Kareem's news network, said he was abducted in the Syrian town of Atmeh and taken to an unknown location by HTS members. 

His stepson, Jihad, later told OGN that Abdul Kareem had finished praying at a mosque near Atmeh when he was approached by two cars of armed men. 

"Abdul Kareem tried to flee, but they pointed their guns at him. I ran away, and they were unable to arrest me. They beat them severely and handcuffed them," said Jihad.

Abdul Kareem's work has been featured by media networks including the BBC, CNN and Sky News.

He is best known for his reports from the final days of the battle for Aleppo in December 2016, when he remained with opposition fighters under bombardment and was transported with them out of the east of the city as part of a ceasefire deal. 

The journalist previously said he had feared execution at the Syrian government's hands on multiple occasions for his coverage of the country's civil war.

He also alleges that he was erroneously placed on a US "kill list" and was targeted by US missiles on multiple occasions in 2016.

The allegations are currently the subject of a legal challenge in Washington brought by Abdul Kareem against the US government.