Ayyoub, a Jordanian national working with the Qatar-based satellite
channel Al-Jazeera, was killed when a U.S. missile struck the station’s
Baghdad bureau, which was located in a two-story villa in a residential
area near the Iraqi Information Ministry and the former presidential
palace compound of Saddam Hussein. Al-Jazeera cameraman Zouhair Nadhim,
who was outside on the building’s roof with Ayyoub, was injured in the
blast, which targeted a small electric generator outside the building.
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
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
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
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
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.