Reporters Without Borders expressed outrage at today’s US bombing of the Baghdad office of the pan-Arab TV station Al-Jazeera that killed one of its journalists, cameraman Tarek Ayoub, and wounded another. The nearby premises of Abu Dhabi TV were also damaged.
"We strongly condemn this attack on an neighbourhood known to include the offices of several TV stations," said secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of US military operations in Iraq.
"To ensure the safety of its journalists, Al-Jazeera’s management has been careful to inform the Americans of the exact location of its crews right from the start of the war. The US army cannot therefore claim it did not know where the Baghdad offices were.
"Did it at least warn the journalists about an imminent bombing? The outcome was predictable: yet another journalist was killed covering this very deadly war for the media," Ménard said.
He called on Franks to make a serious and thorough investigation of who was responsible for the attack and why it was carried out.
An Al-Jazeera journalist who was in Baghdad until a few days ago told Reporters Without Borders that "it couldn’t’ve been a mistake. We’ve told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying ’TV.’"
Ayoub, a Jordanian who was the station’s permanent correspondent in Amman, was sent to beef up the team in Iraq when the war broke out. He was seriously wounded in today’s attack and died soon afterwards.
The Al-Jazeera offices are in an apartment block between the Mansour Hotel and the ministry of planning, in a central Baghdad area of government offices. Another of the station’s journalists, Zohair al-Iraqi, an Iraqi, received a neck wound in the attack.
One of Al-Jazeera’s vehicles, which was clearly marked, came under fire from US forces on a motorway near Baghdad on 7 April. The station said its office in Basra was directly shelled on 2 April.
Four members of the Al-Jazeera crew in Basra, the only journalists inside the city, came under gunfire from British tanks on 29 March as they were filming distribution of food by Iraqi government officials. One of the station’s cameramen, Akil Abdel Reda, went missing and was later found to have been held for 12 hours by US troops.
The Al-Jazeera offices in Kabul were bombed by US forces during the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in November 2001. Reporters Without Borders asked US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the time for an explanation of the attack but got no answer.
On the 20th day of the war, the media toll is seven journalists and a media assistant killed while covering the conflict. At least five journalists have been wounded and two - Frédéric Nerac and Hussein Osman - both of the British TV network ITN - are still missing.
Those killed were: Paul Moran (ABC, Australia), Terry Lloyd (ITN), Kaveh Golestan (BBC), Michael Kelly (Washington Post), Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed (BBC), Christian Liebig (Focus), Julio Anguita Parrado (El Mundo) and Tarek Ayoub (Al-Jazeera).