Journalists in direct line of US fire

The deaths today of three journalists from US fire has provoked a strong reaction from press associations who fear their members may be becoming targets for trigger-happy soldiers.

Al Jazeera television’s Tariq Ayoub was killed and a cameraman injured when a US-missile hit their office while they were preparing for a live broadcast. Shortly afterwards, a US airplane returned to bomb the neighbouring offices of the Arabic satellite channel, Abu Dhabi.

Later in the day a US tank targeted the high-rise Palestinian Hotel in downtown Baghdad housing foreign journalists, killing a Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, and a journalist with the Spanish television Telecinco. Three other journalists were wounded.

“We don’t target journalists,” military officials said on the defensive at  US Central Command in Doha. They said a tank crew had fired a round at the Palestine Hotel in which Reuters and many other foreign news associations are based, after coming under fire from the location.  This claim has been rejected by other journalists located in the same building, including the BBC, who commented on televised news casts that there was no firing in the area before the American shells hit them. US officials have so far failed to acknowledge the attack on Tareq Ayoub, which comes a week after the hotel in which Al Jazeera's Basra correspondents were staying, came under aerial bombardment. The bombs did some damage to the Sheraton hotel grounds, but caused no casualties.Condemnation has come hard and fast.The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the attacks may have been war crimes. The Brussels-based lobby group also accused the United States of singling out Al-Jazeera for punishment."The bombing of hotels where journalists are staying and targeting of Arab media are particularly shocking events in a war which is being fought in the name of democracy," IFJ general secretary Aidan White said in a statementMichael Massing of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York called it a black day for journalism."I’ve been in this job for 12 years and today is one my worst days....It would seem the attack was direct." The response from the Arab world has been no less severe. The Arab Journalists' Union accused the US military of deliberately targeting reporters."The American invasion forces are deliberately attacking journalists," the union's secretary general, Salaheddin Hafedh, said in a statement. "The air strikes and murder of journalists clearly show that the American and British invasion forces are looking to prevent the press from carrying out its duties," the statement said. Hafedh charged that the coalition "has now begun to strike journalists to stop them from revealing the atrocities committed against civilians." In Amman the head of the Jordanian Journalists' Union, Tariq Al-Moumin also said he believed the attacks were designed to send a message. "I guess the attack on journalists was intended. Americans do not advocate freedom, they are not democratic."The Moroccan National Press Union (SNPM) accused the US of trying to take out 'unfriendly' voices."The Americans want journalists' work to serve their military strategy," said Younes Moujahid, secretary general of the SNPM, adding that the US troops had earlier today "knowingly targeted journalists." The Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi al Aridi was equally direct in his response. "This is how America understands democracy. The meaning of this concept for the Americans is silencing people, arresting protestors in front of the White House, and in he said.Reporters without Borders (RSF,) a worldwide media watch group, condemned the deaths of three journalists in Baghdad in two separate US attacks, saying it would demand answers from Washington. The Paris-based group said it would send a letter later in the day to US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, "in protest over what appears to be a deliberate act by the American army" and demanding explanations. In Washington, the Pentagon blamed the deaths of the journalists in Baghdad on the Iraqi government, saying it kept putting civilians at risk. "We don't target journalists. But as we have seen repeatedly the Iraqi regime has put civilians at risk. Baghdad remains a dangerous place," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. Reporters without Borders also lamented the "total silence" from US forces about an incident in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on March 22, in which veteran and highly respected international correspondent with ITN, Terry Lloyd, was killed, apparently by US-British fire.Two other members of his crew are still missing following that incident. ---Al Jazeera and Agencies