Al-Jazeera accuses US of bombing its Kabul office
Targeting of building denied by Pentagon
Matt Wells in Barcelona
Saturday November 17, 2001
The Qatar-based satellite television channel, al-Jazeera, claimed yesterday that its Kabul office had been targeted by United States bombers. Ibrahim Hilal, the chief editor of the Arabic language network, said it had given the location of its office in Kabul to the authorities in Washington - yet on Monday night, its office was destroyed by a bomb that almost wrecked the nearby BBC bureau.
The Pentagon yesterday denied that it had deliberately targeted al-Jazeera, but said it could not explain why the office was hit.
Speaking by telephone to the News World conference of media executives in Barcelona, Mr Hilal said he believed that al-Jazeera's office in Kabul had been on the Pentagon's list of targets since the beginning of the conflict but the US did not want to bomb it while the broadcaster was the only one based in Kabul.
By this week, however, the BBC had reopened its Kabul office under Taliban supervision, with the correspondents William Reeve and Rageh Omar.
On Monday, al-Jazeera executives in Qatar called their correspondent in Kabul and told him to leave, because they feared for his safety after the Northern Alliance took over.
However, after receiving assurances from the Northern Alliance that he would be safe, the reporter decided to stay. He did not tell Qatar of his decision - that night, his office was bombed. At the time, Reeve was being interviewed on BBC World from his bureau in the same street. Pictures of him diving under his desk to avoid fall-out from the blast have been shown on BBC television.
Mr Hilal said he believed the attack was deliberate and long-planned. "I still believe the decision to exclude our office from the coverage was taken weeks before the bombing. But I don't think they would do that while we were the only office in Kabul."
He said that US intelligence forces routinely monitored communications between Qatar and Kabul - a recent videotape of an Osama bin Laden statement was played out by satellite to Qatar from Kabul, but not broadcast until seven days later.
Yet Washington knew of its existence and demanded the right to broadcast a response.
The US would have known, therefore, that al-Jazeera had ordered its Kabul correspondent to leave, but would not have realised that he was still in the city. If the correspondent had died, there would have been an outcry, and the disaster would have been compounded if Reeve had been seriously injured or killed.
Speaking to the conference from the US military's Florida command centre for the Afghan bombings, Colonel Brian Hoey denied that al-Jazeera was a target. "The US military does not and will not target media. We would not, as a policy, target news media organisations - it would not even begin to make sense."
He said that the bombing of Serb television in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict was a different issue. Col Hoey said the targets in question "appeared to have government facilities associated with them".
He said the Pentagon did not have the location coordinates of the al-Jazeera office in Kabul even though the broadcaster said it had passed them, on several times, via its partner CNN in Washington.