Free-lance Australian cameraman Paul Moran, who was on assignment for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), was killed today in an apparent suicide bombing when a man detonated a car at a checkpoint in northeastern Iraq. Another Australian journalist, ABC correspondent Eric Campbell, was injured in the incident.
Michael Ware, Time magazine’s northern Iraq correspondent and a witness to the incident, told his editor, Howard Chua-Eoan, that several foreign journalists were standing outside a checkpoint on the edge of Gerdigo, a town in northern Iraq near Halabja, interviewing people who were leaving the town in the wake of a U.S. cruise missile bombardment that began last night, Friday, March 21, and continued until early this morning.
U.S. missiles were targeting strongholds in the region of Ansar Al-Islam, a group that the United States designates as a terrorist organization. The area where the journalists were conducting interviews was reportedly under the control of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a rival of Ansar Al-Islam that had just taken over the area.
At around 3 p.m., a taxi drove to the checkpoint near PUK soldiers and Moran, and the driver then detonated his vehicle. Most of the other journalists had just left the scene. Moran, who was filming at the time, was standing only a few feet from the checkpoint and was killed immediately. Campbell was injured by shrapnel.
Chua-Eoan said it appeared that the bomber was targeting the PUK soldiers, not the journalists. According to The Associated Press, at least four other people were killed in the bombing. The PUK has blamed Ansar Al-Islam for the attack.
Chua-Eoan told CPJ that foreign journalists in northern Iraq had recently received warnings from U.S. State Department and Kurdish intelligence officials that Ansar Al-Islam may target members of the media, as well as the hotel where most journalists are staying, the Sulaymaniyeh Palace.
Three members of an ITV News crew were reported missing earlier today, March 22, after coming under fire while driving to the southern Iraqi city of Basra, according to the press office of ITN, which produces ITV News. The journalists were not embedded with military forces.
Correspondent Terry Lloyd, cameraman Fred Nerac, translator Hussein Othman, and cameraman Daniel Demoustier were driving today in two marked press vehicles in the city of Iman Anas when they came under fire, according to ITN.
Demoustier, who was injured during the incident but managed to escape, was driving one of the vehicles. He said he did not see what happened to Lloyd, who was seated next to him, or to the other members of the crew.
“Heavy gunfire started towards my car from the right hand side and I had to duck down straight away,” said Demoustier in an interview with ITV News. “A split second and I looked to the right and the right door where my correspondent [Lloyd] was and it was open and he was not there anymore.”
Demoustier fled the area after joining other journalists who happened to be driving by.
Situation in Baghdad tense
Journalists in the capital, Baghdad, describe a very tense scene. There were reports of Iraqi officials confiscating tape, destroying equipment, and detaining or expelling journalists.
On the afternoon of Friday, March 21, Iraqi officials detained free-lance journalist Nate Thayer and an American free-lance photographer while they were reporting on the streets of Baghdad. The two were held for four hours.
In an account published today, March 22, in the online magazine Slate, Thayer wrote, “We were offered a choice between serving as human shields in government buildings or heading by car for the Iranian or Syrian border—which is impossible, since there are no roads, and incredibly unwise, since American forces might be bombing fleeing traffic. Eventually, we were returned to our hotel, with the warning that we could be expelled or drafted as unwilling human shields at any time.” The journalists remain in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the four-person CNN crew that Iraqi officials expelled yesterday arrived safely in Jordan on Saturday afternoon. Iraqi officials had complained that the network was “worse than the American administration,” according to CNN reporter Nic Robertson.