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US journalist arrested in Turkey after fleeing Syria

Lindsey Snell's Twitter biography identifies her as an Istanbul-based video journalist who has contributed to several Western networks
Turkey reportedly has charged Lindsey Snell with 'violating a military zone' (Facebook photo)

An American journalist has been arrested in Turkey and charged with "violating a military zone" after she returned from war-torn Syria, US officials said on Wednesday.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said Lindsey Snell was detained on 6 August and that US consular officials had been able to visit her almost three weeks later on 26 August.

Snell's Twitter biography identifies her as an Istanbul-based video journalist who has contributed to several western networks and news organisations including MSNBC, Vice News and ABC.

On Facebook, she describes herself as hailing from Daytona Beach, Florida, and to have graduated from the University of Florida in 2005. She is a Muslim and wears a headscarf in pictures.

Her last tweets were sent on 5 August, when she referred to having been imprisoned for 10 days by militants from al-Nusra Front before escaping with the aid of a "brave man on a motorcycle".

On her Facebook page, again on 5 August, she said she had been able to document her time in Nusra's captivity with her cellphone.

"It's a crazy story," she wrote.

"A cave prison (the previous tenant of my cell had marked his days in residence in blood on the walls), masked villains, motorcycle escapes and disguises. I can't wait to share the details."

There was no reference to her having arrived in Turkey, but the country would be the obvious first destination of anyone trying to flee the Aleppo region of Syria after escaping a kidnapping. 

"She was detained in Turkey. As I understand it she journeyed to Turkey from Syria," Kirby told reporters in Washington. "She is currently being held at a prison facility in Hatay province.

"What we understand is that she has been charged with violating a military zone, but I can't speak to her reasons for being in Syria and travelling there," he added.

Hatay Governor Ercan Topaca told national media outlet Anadolu Agency: "A US journalist was captured while she was trying to cross the border illegally; she was taken to court and remanded. The trial phase is ongoing. For now, we do not know if she is a spy or not."

Hatay is a far southern province of Turkey that borders on Syria's Aleppo governorate, currently the scene of fierce fighting between Syrian government forces and a variety of rebel groups.

Turkish forces are deployed to the border area as part of efforts to control the flow of fighters and weapons to the civil war.

Snell's arrest comes amid strained relations between the US and Turkey after Turkish forces targeted Kurdish fighters in Syria, the BBC said.

The US has criticised Ankara for attacking Kurdish forces, whom Turkey considers terrorists, along with the Islamic State (IS) group inside Syria, the BBC said. The US depends on Kurdish forces for support in the battle against IS in northern Syria.

The country is also reeling after a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 15 July in which at least 246 people died and more than 2,000 others were injured.

Turkey's government has accused US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen of backing the army-led attempted coup, which Gulen denies.