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3 British journalists missing, presumed dead in southern Iraq

KUWAIT CITY—Three British journalists were missing after they were caught in combat Saturday near the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Three others further north reportedly were hiding from Iraqi soldiers and awaiting a military rescue.

A British military official near Safwan said the missing journalists, who worked for Britain's ITV News network, became entangled in a firefight between U.S. coalition and Iraqi troops and were presumed dead. They were identified as reporter Terry Lloyd, cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman. Another cameraman, Daniel Demoustier, was injured, but said he had not seen what happened to his co-workers.

In northern Iraq, an Australian journalist was killed when a car bomb exploded at a checkpoint in northern Iraq.

The deaths were the most serious in a string of incidents Saturday in which journalists who entered Iraq without military permission were fired upon by Iraqis or had to be rescued by coalition troops.

In one instance, 24 reporters in a caravan of 12 cars had to be extracted from a combat zone by U.S. troops.

In another, armed Iraqis ambushed three cars carrying reporters in central Iraq. The reporters were about 40 miles north of Nassiriyah, a colleague said, in advance of U.S. Army troops racing toward Baghdad.

The colleague, who had been in cell phone communication with the journalists, said two of the vehicles were destroyed, one reporter is missing and the others are in hiding, hoping U.S. forces will rescue them. He would not identify them or their organizations.

"They broke all the rules we laid down and got too far in front of the (U.S. Third Infantry Division's) armored column," the colleague said. "They're in real trouble."

The flood of unauthorized reporters across the Kuwait-Iraq border has left coalition officials pleading for journalists to use common sense and their editors to show restraint.

"There's a lot of pressure to get the story or the picture, and many times editors are pushing it," said Col. Guy Shields, the coalition's chief spokesman in Kuwait. "But it's just not safe. No story is worth your life."

Since the war began, dozens of journalists based in Kuwait have been sneaking across the border into the war zone. Of the more than 2,000 reporters registered at coalition headquarters in Kuwait, nearly 1,500 are "unilateral" reporters, meaning they aren't connected or "embedded" with particular military units and therefore aren't under military supervision or control. Most are anxious to get into Iraq to report on events without the filter of military handlers.

Reporters in four-wheel-drive vehicles loaded with tents, water, food and other supplies have for days been parked on a high ridge at the Highway 80 checkpoint north of Kuwait City, waiting for the border to open.

Many reporters left hotels Saturday morning to "make a run for the border." Some followed faint trails or power line utility roads to bypass checkpoints. Others donned military fatigues, posing as soldiers and bluffing their way past sentries. Still others hired local drivers and guides to get them across the border through the desert.

Company officials said the three missing British journalists were riding in a car that came under fire at Iman Anas as they drove north toward Basra. Demoustier told the network the vehicle came under heavy fire from two Iraqi vehicles and exploded in flames.

Lloyd is an award winning British journalist with extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, the network said.

In northern Iraq, the Australian journalist working for ABC-TV was reported killed and nine people were injured when a car bomb exploded at a Kurdish checkpoint outside the village of Khurmal. He was not immediately identified. The bomber appeared to be targeting the large number of journalists at the checkpoint, reports said.


(Knight Ridder correspondent Sudarsan Raghavan contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.