April 8, 2003, in Baghdad, Iraq
Centcom maintains that U.S. forces were responding to enemy fire in the area and that the Al-Jazeera journalists were caught in the crossfire. Al-Jazeera correspondents deny that any fire came from their building.
The attack occurred during heavy fighting around the bureau in an area that housed government buildings targeted by U.S. and coalition forces. Al-Jazeera officials pointed out that the U.S. military had been given the bureau's exact coordinates weeks before the war began.
In an April 8 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CPJ protested the bombing and called for an immediate investigation. In October, a Centcom spokesman confirmed to CPJ that no investigation into the incident has been conducted.
The incident occurred around dawn, after intense anti-aircraft fire began in the area. Talk show host and producer Maher Abdullah, a five-year Al-Jazeera veteran who had been in Baghdad for two weeks at the time, told CPJ that planes began flying low in the area at around 6 a.m.
The crew went up to the roof of the building to report but retreated because they deemed it unsafe. According to Abdullah, the crew realized moments later that their still camera had been knocked out of position and now faced the Ministry of Information building, which Iraqi authorities had explicitly warned the crew not to film. Assistant cameraman Zoheir Nadhim returned to the roof with Ayyoub to adjust the camera.
When Ayyoub and Nadhim went up stairs, Abdullah heard a plane fly so low it that sounded like it was going to crash into the building. At that point, a missile struck Al-Jazeera's small generator, which was located outside the building at ground level just below where Ayyoub was believed to have been at the time. Two Al-Jazeera correspondents said that while they suspect that the strike caused his death, he could have been killed by other ordnance.
Another plane passed low about 15 minutes later and fired another missile, which struck across the road about 50 feet (15 meters) from the front door, blowing it off the hinges, according to Abdullah.
Raed Khattar, a cameraman for Abu Dhabi TV who, at the time, was outside on the nearby roof of Abu Dhabi TV's office, saw what was likely the first missile because his office was between the plane and Al-Jazeera's office, he told CPJ.
Moments later, Abu Dhabi TV staff on the roof came under machine gun fire from a U.S. tank on the nearby Jumhuriyya Bridge, and one of their three unmanned cameras was struck by a shell, staff told CPJ. The three-story building was marked with a large banner labeled "Abu Dhabi TV."
In a statement issued hours after the incident, Centcom in Doha, Qatar, said that, "According to commanders on the ground, Coalition forces came under significant enemy fire from the building where the Al-Jazeera journalists were working and consistent with the right of self-defense, Coalition forces returned fire. Sadly an Al-Jazeera correspondent was killed in this exchange."
Abdullah noted that until that morning anti-aircraft fire in the area had been sporadic. Days before April 8, Abdullah saw manned Iraqi anti-aircraft positions in the general vicinity-some 220 yards (200 meters) away on the opposite side of the generator, but not immediately near the office. However, on April 11, he discovered one abandoned anti-aircraft gun about 44 yards (40 meters) away from the bureau. Journalists from Abu Dhabi TV told CPJ that Al-Jazeera's bureau was located near a villa used by former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Said Sahhaf.
Just before the war, CPJ obtained a copy of the February 24, 2003, letter that then Al-Jazeera Managing Director Mohammed Jasem al-Ali had sent to the Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke specifying the coordinates of the bureau.
Al-Jazeera also maintains that the night before the strike, al-Ali had received explicit assurances from U.S. State Department official Nabeel Khoury in Doha, Qatar, that the bureau was safe and would not be targeted. Abdullah told CPJ, "The coordinates were actually given four months in advance to the Pentagon, and we were assured that we would not be hit under any circumstances. ... We would never be targeted, that was the assurance."
In an e-mail reply to CPJ, Khoury, who said he did not recall the exact date of his meeting with Al-Jazeera, said, "I doubt very much that I assured anybody's safety in a war zone." He added that he did tell the station "what we had been telling all diplomats and civilians, that whereas our troops would do their utmost not to hurt civilians, there was no way to guarantee anyone's safety in a war zone."
In its April 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld CPJ also noted that, "The attack against Al-Jazeera is of particular concern since the stations' offices were also hit in Kabul, Afghanistan, in November 2001. The Pentagon asserted, without providing additional detail, that the office was a 'known Al-Qaeda facility,' and that the U.S. military did not know the space was being used by Al-Jazeera."
CPJ is still waiting for the Defense Department to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request related to the incident that CPJ filed in May.
Job: Broadcast Reporter
Beats Covered: War
Local or Foreign: Foreign
Type of Death: Crossfire/Combat-Related
Suspected Source of Fire: Military Officials
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