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Deaths of al-Jazeera journalist, 2 others by U.S. missile decried

AMMAN, Jordan—Dima Tahboub saw her husband conduct a live interview during the 5 a.m. news. She heard about the bombing at his office on the 6 o'clock broadcast. She saw another journalist announce his death during the 8 o'clock news.

Her husband, Tareq Ayyoub, was working as a free-lance reporter-producer for the al-Jazeera television channel on Tuesday morning when a U.S. missile struck his office building, near Iraq's Ministry of Information.

Ayyoub, 34, who lived in Jordan, was the first Arab journalist to die covering the war. He leaves behind a 1-year-old daughter, Fatma. His body is expected to return home Wednesday, five days after he left for Baghdad.

He was among three journalists killed Tuesday in downtown Baghdad. Taras Protsyuk, a Reuters cameraman, and Jose Couso, a correspondent with Telecinco Spanish television, died after a U.S. tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, home to many foreign journalists who are reporting on the war.

As they mourned his death, Ayyoub's colleagues and many Jordanians openly questioned why his building was struck. They asked whether it was because it held the office of al-Jazeera, which has shown U.S. prisoners of war and graphic footage of dead and wounded Iraqi women and children, inflaming an already angry Arab populace.

"My husband died trying to reveal the truth of the world," his wife told reporters. "Please do not conceal it. The U.S. said this is a war on terrorism? Who is committing terrorism now? Didn't their records tell them this is a press office and a house of civilians?"

Al-Jazeera Baghdad reporter Majed Abdel Hadi said on air: "We were targeted because the Americans don't want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people."

The network described Ayyoub as a "martyr," a common term in the Arab media to describe those killed in warfare.

U.S. officials denied that they fired on the building because it held al-Jazeera. "We do not target journalists," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said at a briefing in Doha, Qatar. Central Command officials said U.S. troops came under "significant enemy fire" from that building and the Palestine Hotel.

"These tragic incidents appear to be the latest example of the Iraqi regime's continued strategy of using civilian facilities for regime military purposes," the command said in a statement that expressed regret for the "loss of innocent life."

Al-Jazeera officials said witnesses denied that anyone in the building had fired at troops. They said it was too soon to say whether the attack was deliberate.

TV officials also said they had given the Pentagon the precise locations of their Baghdad reporters, including latitude and longitude. According to Jihad Ali Ballout, an al-Jazeera spokesman, the Pentagon had replied before the war: "If you want to ensure the safety of your people, leave Iraq."

Ayyoub's colleagues described him as a consummate journalist. "He was the first one to go after a scoop," said Khalid Dalal, Ayyoub's colleague at the Jordan Times, the nation's largest English-language newspaper, with 7,000 circulation. Besides working at the Jordan Times, where he covered economic and political issues, he did free-lance work for CNN.

Sanah Bashir, Jordan's minister of trade, called Ayyoub "a non-nonsense guy" who pushed the government to release information. "I respected him. He had a job to do, and I was really saddened by his death."

Over the opposition of friends and family, Ayyoub arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for al-Jazeera. His brother refused to say goodbye to him in the hopes he would not go.

His wife tried to discourage him, but Ayyoub told her: "Journalists are safe. They are civilians. They won't be targeted."

Dalal said Ayyoub told newspaper colleagues that he desperately wanted to go, that this was the most important story of his career.

"He said `It's my chance, man, it's a matter of fate for me,''' Dalal said.

Born in Kuwait, Ayyoub studied in India, where he obtained degrees in economics and journalism. He took classes in French and Hebrew, joined the Jordan Times in 1997 and began free-lancing for al-Jazeera three years ago.

While working for al-Jazeera, Ayyoub also wrote for the Jordan Times. One story about the war ended: "Extensive causalities could result if the two sides enter into battle ... near the Iraqi Ministry of Information."

It ran the day before he died.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Peter Smolowitz contributed to this report from Doha, Qatar.)


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

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