Rebels kill Iraqi journalist in Syria, activists say

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Syrian opposition fighters killed an Iraqi freelance journalist in the rebel-held north of the country, the latest of dozens of reporters who have died in the country over the past three years, an activist group and an international media watchdog said Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Yasser Faisal al-Jumaili was shot dead at a rebel checkpoint in the northwestern province of Idlib on Wednesday.

Soazig Dollet of the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders press advocacy group confirmed al-Jumaili was killed in Idlib, adding that his body was taken to Turkey in order to be sent home later. She said she doesn't know how al-Jumaili was killed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that Syria was the most dangerous country in the world for journalists in 2012. According to the group, 28 reporters were killed in that year alone.

Those who lost their lives since the crisis began in March 2011 include award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier, photographer Remi Ochlik and Britain's Sunday Times correspondent Marie Colvin. Also, Anthony Shadid, a correspondent for The New York Times, died after an apparent asthma attack while on assignment in Syria.

In late October, a Syrian journalist working for Al-Arabiya TV was shot dead in the northern province of Aleppo. He was believed to have been killed by Islamic extremists who he had sharply criticized before his death.

Dollet said al-Jumaili came from the Iraqi city of Fallujah, which was a hotbed of the Sunni insurgency and one of the first areas where insurgents stood their ground against American troops after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman and Dollet told The Associated Press that al-Jumaili worked in the past for Al-Jazeera TV and Reuters. They did know say who al-Jumaili was working for during his last trip.

Abdurrahman said the gunmen who killed al-Jumaili were believed to be members of Al Qaeda's Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. He said they were foreign fighters.

Abdurrahman said the shooting is believed to have taken place between the towns of Saraqib and Maaret Musreen, but did not know exactly where it happened. "They stopped him at the checkpoint and opened fire immediately without asking any questions," he said.

In another development, the Observatory said that 12 nuns taken by rebels from the predominantly Christian town of Maaloula north of Damascus earlier this week are still in the rebel-held town of Yabroud.

On Thursday, Syria's Greek Orthodox Patriarch, John Yazigi, pleaded for the release of the nuns, saying that he cancelled a trip to the Gulf and will head to Syria on Friday to follow up on the case.

"We call upon the international community, all governments to work on getting them out safely," Yazigi told reporters in the Balamand Monastery in northern Lebanon. "What we want today is good and tangible acts, not talks."

On Wednesday, Pope Francis called for prayers for the nuns, who were reportedly taken by force from their convent in Syria by rebels. Religious officials in the region have said the women were abducted, but a Syrian opposition activist has said they were merely removed for their own safety.