Pierre Piccinin has gone missing. There is still room for hope.
By Christophe Lamfalussy.
Last update 25/04/2013.
Belgian teacher Pierre Piccinin da Prata has gone missing in Syria. His last message goes back to 17th April.
On Wednesday 17 April at 16:32, Pierre Piccinin da Prata used his Skype account for the last time and wrote to his Syrian contact in Turkey. He told him that everything was fine, that he was at Yabrud which is in the North of Damascus and not too far from the Lebanese border and that he was waiting for a car coming from the North which would pick him up and take him back to Turkey. Yabrud is controlled by Al-Nusra and other Islamist groups.
Since then, nobody has heard from the Belgian teacher, who traveled to Syria for the eighth time. His relatives started to be seriously worried and decided to contact the Belgian newspaper “Le Soir” which in turn decided to publicise the fact that Pierre Piccinin, a 40 year old Belgian with a passion for the Arab Spring, may possibly be missing.
“Pierre was supposed to come home on 10th April and on 11th he was to give a conference” his friend Thibaut Werpin told the newspaper. And, after the Easter holidays, he had to get back to work and provide lessons at “l’Athénée Jean Rostand” high school in Philippeville. What his friend does not understand is why Pierre Piccinin did not send him or his parents a message while he could log on his Skype account
He stopped at Homs.
On 17th April, was it Piccinin or somebody else who pretended to be Piccinin? Was he limited in time because of safety instructions? Was there a power outage?
At this stage, anything is possible. But, it would not be the first time a war reporter on the ground had been unable to contact his relatives and to reassure them.
The last communication received from Pierre Piccinin was a text message. It dates back to 8th April, where the Belgian, along with Domenico Quirico, an Italian journalist, entered Syria. Nobody has any news from the latter.
There is still room for hope because for safety reasons, journalists who enter Syria and film the rebels turn off their GSM to prevent the authorities from tracing them. We were told that the two journalists went to Homs, where, according to Pierre Piccini da Prata, a decisive battle would be happening. The Belgian teacher, who prefers to describe himself as a political scientist and a historian, told us that this was probably the most extreme and the most dangerous trip he had undertaken.
The Belgian embassies in Amman and Ankara, as well as international organizations and the countries neighbouring Syria have been informed. However, the Belgian foreign affairs have a limited power of action; especially due to the fact that the Belgian Embassy in Damascus has been closed. “It is better not to say anything about him” Michel Malherbe, a spokesman at foreign affairs, pointed out.
He changed his mind in 2012.
(…) Piccinin (…) acquired his knowledge from the field, in Egypt, Libya and Syria. At first, he took a position sympathetic to the regime of Bashar al-Assad [he denied it in a conference held at Leeds in 2013]. This had won him much enmity and acerbic remarks from Jonathan Littell who met him at Homs and called him a “moron from Gembloux (a city in Belgium).”
But a trip to Homs in late 2011, where he met an Alawite actress, Fadwa Suleiman who was on the side of the rebels, and especially a trip in May 2012 during which he was beaten and electrocuted by the “henchmen of the regime” in Homs, convinced him that he had to rally to the cause of the Syrian opposition.
In January 2013, he published in L’Harmattan “The Battle of Aleppo – Chronicles of the Syrian revolution”.
As an epigraph on the first page of his book, the author, a Catholic of Italian origin, has opted for an Arab proverb that says a lot about his approach: “The Mountains do not go towards each other, but men were created to meet. »
Pierre Piccinin Da Prata has been missing for two weeks in Syria. Nobody has heard from him since 17th April. His parents have decided to publicise the fact that he has gone missing. Any help is needed and welcome. Please help us find him! If you have any information, please contact his relatives at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org