Fred Nérac

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

On March 22, veteran ITV News correspondent Terry Lloyd, cameraman Fred Nérac, and translator Hussein Othman came under fire while driving to the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The journalists were not embedded with military forces.

The three men, along with cameraman Daniel Demoustier, were traveling in two marked press vehicles in the town of Iman Anas, near Al-Zubayr, when they came under fire, the network provider for ITV, ITN, reported. According to Demoustier, Iraqi troops had been pursuing the car he and Lloyd had been driving, perhaps in an attempt to surrender to the journalists. Demoustier reported that the incoming fire to their vehicles likely came from U.S. or British forces in the area.

Demoustier, who was injured when the car he was driving crashed into a ditch and caught fire, managed to escape. He said he did not see what happened to Lloyd, who was seated next to him, or to the other crew members. Lloyd’s body was recovered in a hospital in Basra days later.

An investigative article published in the Wall Street Journal in May 2003 indicated that Lloyd’s SUV and another vehicle belonging to his colleagues came under fire from U.S. Marines. The article cited accounts from U.S. troops who recalled opening fire on cars marked "TV." Soldiers also said they believed that Iraqi suicide bombers were using the cars to attack U.S. troops.

The Journal article cited a report from a British security firm commissioned by ITN to investigate the incident saying that Lloyd’s car was hit by both coalition and Iraqi fire; the latter most likely came from behind the car, possibly after the vehicle had crashed.

The report concluded that "[t]he Iraqis no doubt mounted an attack using the ITN crew as cover, or perhaps stumbled into the U.S. forces whilst attempting to detain the ITN crew." The report also speculated that Nerac and Othman, who were last seen by Demoustier in another car being stopped by Iraqi forces–might have been pulled out of their car before it came under fire from coalition forces, and then Iraqi forces used the SUV to attack the coalition forces.

In April, Nerac’s wife approached U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at a NATO press conference, and he promised to do everything in his power to find out what had happened to the missing men. In late May, Centcom said that it was investigating the incident, while the British Ministry of Defense promised to open an inquiry. Neither had made public any results as of October 2003.

In September 2003, London’s The Daily Mirror newspaper reported the testimony of an Iraqi man named Hamid Aglan who had allegedly tried to rescue the wounded Lloyd in a civilian minibus. Aglan told the newspaper that he had picked up a lightly wounded Lloyd, who had suffered only a shoulder injury, and attempted to take him to hospital in Basra when the minibus came under fire from a U.S. helicopter, killing Lloyd. The paper reported that the bus was also carrying wounded Iraqi soldiers.

An ITN spokesperson told CPJ that a number of elements of Aglan’s story are not consistent with ITN’s own investigation. She said an autopsy revealed that Lloyd had suffered two serious wounds that likely resulted from Iraqi and U.S. fire. She said that after he was wounded, an Iraqi civilian in a minibus had picked up Lloyd and tried to take him to a hospital in Basra. The minibus later came under U.S. attack. "It was a gunshot to the bus and [Terry] was probably in the bus," she said. ITN investigators believe that either wound that Lloyd sustained would have been fatal.

According to ITV, when the journalists disappeared, Nerac was wearing three press cards–one American and two Kuwaiti–containing his name and photo. He had on a blue Gortex jacket, khaki trousers, thick Gortex shoes, and a silver watch. He has dark brown hair and gold-colored, round-rimmed glasses. Nerac has a fairly recent scar (about 2 inches [4 to 5 centimeters] long) on one side of his buttocks.

Othman was also wearing three press cards–one American and two Kuwaiti–containing his name and photo, said ITV. He was dressed in dark-colored, casual clothes. Othman is 5 feet 6 inches (1.70 meters) tall, with a medium build and short, thinning, dark hair.

In October 2006, the French daily Le Figaro published an article saying that then French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy had told Nerac’s wife on October 19, 2005, that Nerac had been declared officially dead based on the conclusions of a French cell that had been deployed in Iraq for eight months, but he did not provide any tangible details on how he died.

The Le Figaro article also cited anonymous diplomatic sources as saying that, following the crossfire between Iraqi and U.S. and British forces, Nerac was kidnapped by Iraqi militiamen and taken to the office of the head of the Baath Party in Al-Zubayr, where he was interrogated. He was subsequently taken to a graveyard, executed, and incinerated; the local head of the Baath Party was seen driving Nerac’s car a few days after his murder, the same article said.

According to the same news report, these details were included in a 2004 report that France commissioned to soldiers deployed in the area. Nerac’s wife is also cited as saying that she was unaware of the existence of that report and that the only information that the French authorities had shared with her was that the DNA tests performed on remains of corpses found in the same area did not match those of her husband.

However, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said on October 15, 2006, that four out of five independent investigations into the incident suggest that Nerac and Othman were killed in an Iraqi vehicle during an exchange of fire between Iraqi and U.S. troops and that the hypothesis of the kidnapping and murder of Nerac by Baathists could not be confirmed, according to news reports. The spokesman added that the efforts to retrieve the body of Nerac were ongoing.

In a TV interview in October 2005, Nerac’s wife said that DNA tests performed in June 2004 had resulted in the identification of Othman and that despite the announcement of his death by the then French foreign minister she needed evidence of Nerac’s death.

Nerac’s wife acknowledged that Nerac could be dead, but she insisted that efforts should be undertaken to retrieve her husband’s body and called on the French authorities to continue the investigation on the ground. 

In March 2013, The Guardian ran an article by Bill Neely, a former ITN reporter and friend of Nerac, saying that even though the inquests into the death of Terry Lloyd had concluded that he was unlawfully killed by U.S. troops, no remains of Nerac had been found and inquiries by other ITN journalists on the ground had yielded no results.

In an ITV news report on the 10th anniversary of Nerac’s disappearance, ITV reporter Mark Austin interviewed an eyewitness who said that a pick-up truck carrying Iraqi militiamen stopped Nerac’s car and put him and Othman in the truck shortly before the firing started.

The eyewitness says he is convinced that Nerac was killed because the pick-up truck was under heavy fire and everybody else in the truck was killed, too. The video shows a picture of the burned down pick-up truck riddled with bullets. However, Nerac remains missing and no new leads have emerged about his fate or whereabouts, according to the same report. A news report by the British newspaper The Daily Mail confirms the eyewitness’ account.

Neither ITN nor Daniel Demoustier replied to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via email and messaging apps.