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Journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem arrested by HTS in Syria's Idlib

American journalist's detention follows broadcasts raising concerns about allegations of HTS torturing prisoners
Bilal Abdul Kareem, who runs On the Ground News, has previously worked with the BBC and been a contributor to Middle East Eye.
Abdul Kareem, who runs On the Ground News, has previously worked with the BBC and been a contributor to Middle East Eye (Twitter)

An American journalist based in Syria's opposition-held Idlib province has been arrested by the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militant group, according to local reports.

Bilal Abdul Kareem, a Middle East Eye contributor and one of the most prominent foreign journalists covering Syria's civil war, was arrested by HTS forces in the town of Atmeh in northern Idlib earlier on Thursday.

Abdul Kareem's own On the Ground News network reported that he was assaulted and taken to an unknown location by masked members of the group, which controls much of Idlib.

The reasons for Abdul Kareem's arrest and the nature of any charges he faces remain unknown.

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But his detention follows the re-arrest on Tuesday of Tauqir Sharif, a British aid worker based in Idlib whose case had been highlighted by Abdul Kareem when Sharif was originally arrested in June.

It also follows the broadcasting of Abdul Kareem's interview with Sharif's wife, Racquell Hayden-Best, in which she alleged that her husband had been tortured in HTS custody.

"They had tortured him in prison," she said in the interview for On the Ground News.

"Because of the bail conditions put on him, he hasn't made this public to anybody."

Abdul Kareem released another video on OGN this week in which he asked whether HTS allows torture in its prison system.

"There have been numerous complaints about torture within the prison system," he said.

"We would like to officially ask Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, do they allow torture in their prisons? That includes all of the prisons, from the civilian prison to the political prisoners."

Abdul Kareem told MEE in June that he had narrowly escaped arrest shortly after Sharif was detained by fleeing on the back of a motorbike.

Based in opposition-held Syria since 2014, 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. 

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Abdul Kareem has previously said he had feared execution at the hands of the Syrian government on multiple occasions for his coverage of the Syrian opposition, and also alleges that he was erroneously placed on a US "kill list" after being targeted by US missiles on five separate occasions in 2016.

He launched a legal challenge in March 2017 after being tipped off that American forces were deliberately targeting him.

Many foreign nationals are unable to leave Idlib because of suspicion over their activities and the threat of arrest in their home countries.

HTS is a coalition of opposition fighters that is considered a terrorist group in countries including the US and the UK because it contains factions who formerly belonged to the al-Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front, one of the main opposition forces for much of Syria's war.

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