MAY 31, 2003 SAT


Weapon or camera? US troops can't seem to tell

Questions have been asked about US decisions after three journalists were killed in two attacks yesterday

By Ong Soh Chin

THREE journalists were killed in Baghdad in two separate attacks by US troops yesterday, prompting an outcry about the Americans' judgment.

-- AP

-- AFP
Possibly mistaking this video weapon camera for a weapon at the Palestine Hotel (above), the crew of a US tank opened fire, killing Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk (left).

Two cameramen, one from news agency Reuters and one from a Spanish TV channel, were killed when an American tank fired a single shell high up at the Palestine Hotel, where most of the international media are based.

The shell struck the 15th floor where Reuters staff were staying.

The cameramen were identified as Mr Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national, and Mr Jose Couso, 37, from Spain's Telecinco channel.

The deaths might have been a tragic error of judgment - Mr Protsyuk's camera lens may have been mistaken for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, according to reports.

In a separate attack earlier yesterday, Al Jazeera cameraman Tarek Ayoub, 34, died in hospital from wounds sustained during a US bombing of the Qatar-based network's Baghdad office.

The three deaths bring to 12 the number of journalists killed since the war began 20 days ago. Four journalists died in the first Gulf War.

A single US tank round had been fired at the Palestine Hotel in response to rocket and small-arms fire from inside, according to the commander of the US 3rd Infantry Division, General Buford Blount.

Reporters at the scene disputed his account.

'I never heard a single shot... certainly not from the hotel,' said British Sky TV reporter David Chater.

Al Jazeera correspondent Tarek Ayoub was also killed. -- AFP

Three other Reuters staff were wounded in the attack. The agency's British-based editor-in-chief, Mr Geert Linnebank, said: 'Taras' death, and the injuries sustained by the others, were so unnecessary.'

A Spanish Defence Ministry official in Madrid said his country would demand an explanation from Washington for Mr Couso's death.

American Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks told a Central Command briefing yesterday: 'We certainly know that we don't target journalists. That's just not something we do. We also know that the locations where the regime does its work... will put civilians at risk.'

The International Federation of Journalists said the US attack on the hotel was a possible war crime.

Al Jazeera Baghdad correspondent Majed Abdel Hadi said: 'We were targeted because the Americans don't want the world to see the crimes they are committing.' -- Information compiled from Reuters, AP, AFP, Bloomberg


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