Italian War Journalist Missing In Syria - A Taste Of His Work, And Courage

Domenico Quirico
Domenico Quirico


PARIS - La Stampa's veteran war correspondent Domenico Quirico has been missing in Syria more than three weeks now. Our Turin-based partner released the news earlier this week after working quietly with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to trace the journalist.

Heading for Homs, he crossed the Syrian border through Lebanon on April 6 and contact was lost three days later. Quirico, 62, is renowned for his reports on conflicted areas and, according to La Stampa editor-in-chief Mario Calabresi, has often lost contact, but never for this amount of time.

In the past year, he has been to Mali three times, Somalia once, and, now for a fourth time, he is in Syria. His first two Syrian trips were to Aleppo and the third to Idlib, following the rebels. This time he wanted to go back and write about the evolution of the conflict that strayed from the front pages.

Quirico would never write a story away from the front lines -- ethically, he found that unacceptable. La Stampa quotes him as once saying that in order to report the true facts about bombings, you must be under the bombs with the population, sharing emotions, as well as the destiny of the people you are covering. So, to honor the job that he loves, he went back.

His disappearance is especially poignant this Friday, as it is World Press Freedom day and 2013 marks its 20th anniversary. Since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011, the country has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

See below for a sample of Worldcrunch's English-language editions of Quirico’s reporting, from searching for the Taliban to consciously risking his life on a tiny boat with illegal immigrants crossing from North Africa to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Our thoughts are with him, his family, and his La Stampa colleagues:

Ride Along With Tuareg Rebels, As Al Qaeda Undermines West African ‘Spring’

In Mali this time last year, he joined the Tuareg rebels fighting for their freedom.

I arrived in the newly declared West African nation of Azawad. It is a beautiful, and dark name which means “land of transhumance,” in Tamasheq, the Tuareg language. The Mali army left Azawad three weeks ago. Now, there are only the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) who declared their independence from not only the Mali authorities, but also Salafists and al Qaeda. Here, no one is in charge.


Somalia, When Al Qaeda Arrives From Everywhere

In Somalia in 2012, Quirico joined a general and his men who were fighting al Qaeda.

General Barisse’s men are in the pick-up trucks, one next to the other, holding their weapons, looking around. They are hunting the al-Shabaab, the Somali Taliban, the nightmare that al Qaeda bore, even here in the sands of the Horn of Africa, cultivated in the microbes of an infinite tribal war that the West did not know how to, or did not want to solve.

Yes, the war that Barisse’s men fight is complicated. It isn’t a drone war -- mechanic, sterile, rather cowardly - that the Americans are also fighting here, and that has silently eliminated at least 200 al-Shabaab, including several key leaders.


Tunisia To Lampedusa: Reporter Joins Risky Immigrant Journey

Joining 112 immigrants from Tunisia, Quirico spent 22 hours on a tiny boat, crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

“I made the journey because of my arrogant desire to understand why these young men risk their lives to reach Europe. It is not just poverty that drives them. In Tunisia, even if people have always been poor, they are not starving. They are driven by the same force that has always made young people dream and leave their hometown. They are just looking for another life. They want to dream, and to try.”

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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