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Syria's President Claims Ignorance In Death Of American Journalist

"We didn't even know Marie Colvin existed somewhere," said Bashar al-Assad, who denied allegations that Colvin was targeted that are raised in a recent lawsuit.

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A new lawsuit in a U.S. court is the first case ever to be brought against Syrian officials for war crimes — and President Bashar al-Assad just answered some of its charges.

NBC News

He denied them all, of course.

Assad was responding to a lawsuit filed Saturday in a U.S. court, which names nine senior Syrian officials — including Assad's brother — as responsible for the "extrajudicial killing" of Marie Colvin, an American journalist who died in a rocket attack in Homs in 2012. The suit alleges that her targeted killing was part of a pattern of violence against journalists.

Assad's comments came in a nearly hour-long interview with Bill Neely, the chief global correspondent for NBC News. The interview aired Wednesday.

Assad claimed that Syrian forces "didn't know that Marie Colvin existed somewhere" and that "because she came illegally, she's being responsible of everything that befall-- on her."

Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

Neely clarified, "She's responsible — for her own death?"

"Of course," Assad answered as Neely asked the question.

The suit says Colvin's newspaper, The Sunday Times, tried and failed to get an entry visa for Syria.

Assad also alleged that Colvin and her colleagues were on the side of the terrorists.

Khaled Al-hariri / Reuters

"We had hundreds of journalists came to Syria legally and illegally, and they covered for the terrorists, not for the government," Assad said.

"And we didn't kill them," he continued. "So why... single out this person in order to kill her? There's no logic."

The suit alleges that Colvin's killing fits into a pattern of Assad's regime targeting local and foreign journalists. The filing includes a 2011 national security memo that describes as enemies anyone "who tarnish[es] the image of Syria in foreign media and international organizations" and directs regional security committees to "cleanse" their sectors of such "wanted persons."

The suit also points to the abduction and torture of Syrian political cartoonists Ali Ferzat and Akram Raslan, the latter of whom is believed to have died from torture, and Syrian cameraman Ferzat Jarban, a freelance cameraman who was arrested and murdered.

The death of Gilles Jacquier, a French journalist, who was killed in Homs, where he'd been escorted by Syrian security forces is also listed in the suit. Jacquier's colleagues, reporting with him at the time, believe the Syrian government led Jacquier into an ambush, the suit says.

And it points to a targeted shelling of Khaled Abu Salah, co-founder of the media center where Colvin was staying and working when she was killed. Salah was injured by shrapnel from a rocket — directed to its location, the suit implies, by intercepting Salah's cell phone signal.

Also, Assad claimed, "nobody knows if she killed by missile, or which missile, and where did the missile came from, or how."

Stefan Wermuth / Reuters

"No one has any evidence," he continued. "This is just-- allegations because it's a conflict area. It's a war. You know about-- you know about crossfire. When you're-- and-- when you're caught in crossfire somewhere, you cannot tell who killed who. So-- this is al-- these are allegations."

Colvin's sister, Cathleen, told BuzzFeed News that survivors of the attack dispute that claim. Paul Conroy, a British photographer injured with Colvin and a former soldier in the Royal Artillery, told Colvin's sister that he could tell from the pattern of attack that the journalists were being targeted.

The suit alleges that the crew were "bracketed," or targeted by rounds that get increasingly closer. The suit says that Colvin was killed by a a rocket near the media center; survivors scattered outside the house and were targeted in the streets as they made their escape.

Pro-government journalists have also been killed, Assad said. "Did we kill them? We didn't."

"Have you heard about good war? I don't think anyone have heard about good war. It's a war. You always have casualties, you always have innocent people being killed by any mean[s]," he said. "And no one can tell how."

Jina Moore is the global women's rights correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Berlin.

Contact Jina Moore at jina.moore@buzzfeed.com.

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