Syrian activist, journalist daughter from NC found dead in Turkey


ANKARA, Turkey (WSOC) - A Syrian activist and her U.S-born journalist daughter have been killed in their home in Istanbul, relatives and Turkish media said Friday - the latest victims of attacks targeting Syrian activists in Turkey.

The bodies of 60-year-old Orouba Barakat, from Idlib in northern Syria, and her only daughter, 23-year-old Halla Barakat, were discovered late Thursday, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, after friends contacted police when the journalist didn't show up for work.

READ MORE from ABC affiliate WSOC here.

Anadolu said the bodies were stabbed. Homicide officers are investigating the deaths. The Hurriyet newspaper said police believe the women were killed two or three days earlier.

There have been four previous killings of Syrian journalists in Turkey, which the Islamic State group has claimed. A fifth journalist survived two attacks.

Orouba Barakat's sister, Shaza Barakat, came from Syria from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to attend the funeral.

She said her sister and her family had been critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and suggested that the government may be behind the killings.

Orouba had left Syria in the 1980s, worked as a journalist in Arab newspapers, covering economic and political affairs. She later traveled to America where she gave birth to her daughter. She is separated from her U.S.-Syrian husband, a physician in the United States, Shaza Barakat said.

Shaza Barakat said Halla was born in North Carolina and was related to Deah Barakat, his wife, Yusor Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Abu-Salha from Chapel Hill who were killed in 2015 by their neighbor who said he had "disdain for religion."

[READ MORE: Family, friends say 3 slain in Chapel Hill left a legacy of giving]

"We accuse the Syrian regime, the gangs, because we are against the unjust government, this deadly oppressor, which has killed three quarters of the Syrians and displaced the rest, and destroyed all of Syria," Shaza Barakat said in messages to The Associated Press.

According to Syrian opposition activists, Orouba was a member of the Syrian National Council. She had backed the uprising against Assad and had supported the opposition, even as she was critical of some opposition groups.

Her daughter was a journalist working for the opposition's Orient News. Earlier this year, she took part in a talk titled "Russia destroyed Syria."

Bill Fortier, a Canadian television reporter, is currently in Turkey, teaching with the group Journalists for Human Rights. The organization is working to educate and train Syrian journalists who want a free and open press within an oppressed Syria.

"Other Syrian journalists were really saddened by this. You could see it in their faces," Fortier said via a video interview with WSOC-TV.

After the murders, his handler had a very simple question for him.

"Do you want to go? Do you want to go home? Do you still feel safe being here? A journalist has been killed," the handler said to Fortier.

Fortier decided to stay and continue to teach journalism fundamentals to Syrians.

"Really quickly, sadness turns to anger. This appears to be a targeted attack on journalism. An attack on journalists is an attack on journalism," Fortier said. "For me and the people I'm working with, it really galvanized our resolve to be here and to continue teaching journalism and working with them."

Fortier believes this could turn into a larger incident if Turkey discovers the Assad regime was involved in the murders of Orouba and Halla Barakat. He said his work will go on while the investigation continues.

"It didn't scare anyone away. All of the journalists here are just as determined as they were before (the murders)," Fortier said. "Maybe more determined, to do this job and to accurately tell the stories affecting the Syrian people."

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