A Japanese reporter was killed after coming under fire from up to 15 apparently pro-government troops in the conflict-wracked Syrian city of Aleppo, her colleague said Tuesday.
Veteran war reporter Mika Yamamoto died after being shot in the neck as she covered the anti-regime movement in the city, her long-time collaborator Kazutaka Sato told Japanese broadcasters.
The death of the 45-year-old takes to four the number of foreign journalists who have lost their lives in the country since the uprising began against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
Three other journalists were also reportedly missing on Tuesday, two of them from a US-funded Arabic language broadcaster. It was not clear if the incidents were connected.
Sato, a colleague from the small but respected Japan Press, said he and Yamamoto had been with anti-regime forces when they were shot at by what appeared to be government troops.
“We saw a group of 10 to 15 troops ahead on the right, who were walking in double file,” he told national broadcaster NHK.
“When they started shooting, I dashed towards my left where I saw a Free Syrian Army soldier.”
Sato, who had worked with Yamamoto in Iraq, told NTV: “The one at the front (of the group of troops) was wearing a helmet and I immediately thought they were government troops.”
“I think I told her to run. At that moment, they started shooting.
“We all ran and scattered. After that, I couldn’t see Yamamoto and was told to go to hospital. I found Yamamoto’s body there.”
Sato was told by a hospital official that Yamamoto was already dead when she arrived, NHK said. The TBS network cited Sato as saying she had been shot in the neck.
The Japanese government confirmed Yamamoto had been killed while working in Aleppo. Chief Cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura said her body had been identified by Sato and was now in Turkey.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a non-governmental organization, had earlier said that in addition to Yamamoto’s death, three journalists were missing -- two Arabs, one of them a Lebanese woman, and a Turkish reporter.
Reports from the U.S.-funded Arabic language broadcaster Al-Hurra said four journalists had been travelling in a car that was attacked by fighters dressed like those from the Free Syrian Army, citing the vehicle’s driver.
The rebel group subsequently denied any involvement, blaming pro-regime forces, the station reported.
It was not clear if the incident was connected to Yamamoto’s death.
In a statement issued Monday, Washington-based Al-Hurra said it had lost contact with correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal. It did not give their nationalities.
“We have seen the YouTube video in which the Free Syrian Army states that Al-Hurra correspondent Bashar Fahmi and his cameraman Cuneyt Unal were captured and detained in Aleppo, Syria,” said a statement from Middle East Broadcasting Networks, which operates Al-Hurra.
“We have not been able to get in touch with Mr. Fahmi and Mr. Unal since they entered Syria on Monday morning. We are currently working to gather more information about their status.”
Yamamoto was a known face on Japanese television who came to prominence after she survived air raids on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad in 2003, in which two journalists from Reuters and a Spanish broadcaster were killed.
The dead woman’s father, retired journalist Koji Yamamoto, said reports of her death were “too much to bear”.
“She was always talking about tragic people who were caught in conflicts, human lives and world peace. She was more than I was... she is a wonderful reporter and daughter,” he told Jiji press.
Yamamoto is the fourth foreign reporter to have died in the violence in Syria since March 2011.
French reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed on January 11 in central Syria’s Homs, where American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik both perished on February 22.