March 18, 2004, in Baghdad, Iraq
Cameraman Ali Abdel Aziz and reporter Ali al-Khatib of the United Arab Emirates-based news channel Al-Arabiya were shot dead near a U.S. military checkpoint in Baghdad. The two journalists, along with a technician and a driver, were covering the aftermath of a rocket attack against the Burj al-Hayat Hotel, according to Al-Arabiya. The crew arrived at the scene in two vehicles and parked about 110 to 165 yards (100 to 150 meters) away from a checkpoint near the hotel. Technician Mohamed Abdel Hafez said that he, Abdel Aziz, and al-Khatib approached the soldiers on foot and spoke with them for a few minutes but were told they could not proceed.
As the three men prepared to depart, the electricity in the area went out and a car driven by an elderly man approached U.S. troops, crashing into a small metal barrier near a military vehicle at the checkpoint.
Abdel Hafez said that as the crew pulled away from the scene, one of their vehicles was struck by gunfire from the direction of the U.S. troops. Abdel Hafez said he witnessed two or three U.S. soldiers firing but was not sure at whom they were firing. He said there had been no other gunfire in the area at the time.
Bullets passed through the rear windshield of the car in which Abdel Aziz and al-Khatib were driving. Abdel Aziz died instantly of a bullet wound, or wounds, to the head, while al-Khatib died in a hospital the next day, also due to head wounds.
According to press reports, the U.S. military commander in Iraq at the time, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, ordered an "urgent review" of the incident. On March 29, the U.S. military said it had completed its investigation and accepted responsibility for the deaths of the two journalists.
A statement posted on the Combined Joint Task Forces 7's Web site expressed "regret" for the deaths and said the investigation determined that the incident was an "accidental shooting." Press reports quoted U.S. military officials saying that the soldiers who had opened fire acted within the "rules of engagement."
The military's statement said the "investigation concluded that no soldiers fired intentionally" at the Al-Arabiya car. The military has said that the full investigative report is classified; CPJ has sought a copy of the report under the Freedom of Information Act.
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