Al-Jazeera television said on Tuesday its cameraman Tarek Ayoub was killed during a U.S. air raid on Baghdad which also set the Arab network’s office ablaze.
The Qatar-based satellite network said Ayoub, a Jordanian national, died in hospital after he was wounded in a missile strike on Jazeera’s office near the Information Ministry.
Another member of Jazeera’s Baghdad crew, Zohair al-Iraqi, was slightly wounded. Reuters correspondent Samia Nakhoul had earlier said U.S. planes were bombing targets near the ministry.
“We regret to inform you that our cameraman and correspondent Tarek Ayoub was killed this morning during the U.S. missile strike on our Baghdad office,” Jazeera said in a statement read out during its news bulletin.
“He is a martyr,” it said. The network regularly refers to Iraqi civilians killed in the 20-day U.S.-led war as “martyrs.”
At least six journalists have died while covering the war waged by the United States and Britain to oust President Saddam Hussein.
Jazeera, one of the most widely watched channels in the Arab world, has come under fire from U.S. and British officials for showing images of slain Western soldiers and U.S. prisoners of war.
Jazeera’s Baghdad correspondent Majed Abdel Hadi called the U.S. missile strike and Ayoub’s death a “crime.”
“I will not be objective about this because we have been dragged into this conflict,” he said, visibly upset. “We were targeted because the Americans don’t want the world to see the crimes they are committing against the Iraqi people.”
No comment from the U.S. military was immediately available.
Jazeera and fellow Arab network Abu Dhabi TV are the only two international channels with their own offices in Baghdad.
All other media organizations used to operate from a press center at the Information Ministry, but they moved to a hotel after the ministry was bombed.
Abu Dhabi TV had earlier showed footage of a huge fire blazing from the Jazeera office. Jazeera correspondent Tayseer Alouni, who made his name covering the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan, was seen carrying the wounded Ayoub into a car.
“One missile hit the pavement in front of us, ripping out windows and doors and then one hit the generator,” said Maher Abdullah, another Jazeera correspondent. “The office is now on fire.”
Jazeera’s graphic images of the U.S.-led war on Iraq have mesmerized millions of Arab viewers, who regard its coverage as more comprehensive and balanced than that of Western media.
Some U.S. and British officials, however, say the network is biased toward Iraq. Some media analysts have accused Jazeera of airing Iraqi propaganda to gain exclusive footage # a charge the network denies.
Eight-year-old Jazeera rose to prominence in the West by broadcasting exclusive comments by Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Alouni was one of only a few international correspondents allowed to operate under the aegis of the now defunct Taliban government. Jazeera’s office was one of the first targets hit when the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance fighters routed the Taliban in Kabul.