Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces arrive on May 28, 2015 in the Ariha district of Syria's Idlib
Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces arrive on May 28, 2015 in the Ariha district of Syria's Idlib © Omar Haj Kadour - AFP
Fighters from a coalition of Islamist forces arrive on May 28, 2015 in the Ariha district of Syria's Idlib
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AFP
Last updated: January 11, 2016

Al Qaeda abducts media activists from Syrian rebel town

Banner Icon Syria's Al-Qaeda affiliate briefly detained two of the country's most prominent media activists who worked at a radio station in the northwestern Idlib province on Sunday, their employer said.

Raed Fares and Hadi al-Abdallah were released about 12 hours after their abduction, Fresh FM said in a statement posted on Facebook.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group confirmed the release, saying Al-Nusra freed the pair after "interrogating them".

Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said they had been arrested because the radio had "broadcast content against Islamic law, like songs, in violation of an agreement" with Al-Nusra.

Their abduction had been announced by Soner Taleb, head of media at the opposition Syrian National Coalition, who said they were seized from the radio headquarter in the rebel-held town of Kafranbel.

Fares, Fresh FM's director, had been detained before by Al-Nusra fighters, who disapprove of what they term the station's "secular tendency and support of apostates", Taleb had said.

Fresh FM said Al-Nusra fighters stormed the radio station and confiscated its broadcasting, technical equipment, electricity generators and revolution flags before arresting Fares and Abdallah.

The flag featuring three red stars over a green, white and black tricolour, in use before President Bashar al-Assad's father and predecessor came to power, is the symbol of Syria's uprising.

Fares, 41, is widely known as the creator behind often humourous protest posters of Kafranbel which were widely circulated online.

"Raed is the founder of Fresh FM, and he's an amazing person," said activist Ibrahim al-Idlibi.

Fares, a medical student when popular anti-regime protests began across Syria in March 2011, survived an assassination attempt two years ago, said co-worker Ahmad Buyush.

Founded in 2013, Fresh FM employs more than 80 people and runs medical treatment programmes as well as a blood bank, he said.

It broadcasts "national, revolutionary, and religious songs" and programmes on news and social issues.

Al-Nusra said on its Twitter accounts that it had detained the pair "because Fresh FM broadcasts wickedness and immorality," according to Buyush.

- 'Confiscated by Al-Nusra' -

Pictures posted online by Fresh FM showed the words "Confiscated by Al-Nusra Front" and "Do not enter" spraypainted on the walls of the radio building.

An activist affiliated with the station also posted video footage of what he said was Abdallah's room at the headquarters.

The room appeared ransacked, with the doors of a small wooden closet flung open and personal items strewn across the floor.

AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the images.

Fresh FM's offices have regularly been targeted by jihadists, including a car bomb explosion last summer followed by a hand grenade attack.

Abdallah, who is in his 20s, shot to prominence in 2011 when anti-regime protests erupted across Syria, before the country's descent into civil war.

Last year he was one of four journalists who interviewed Al-Nusra's head, Abu Mohammad al-Jolani.

Al-Nusra is part of a powerful alliance known as the Army of Conquest that captured Idlib earlier this year, and it has a strong presence in other parts of the country.

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