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WAR WITH IRAQ

Cameraman Killed, Three Journalists Missing

An Australian dies in an attack by an apparent suicide car bomber. A British news crew is unaccounted for after coming under fire.

March 23, 2003|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The Iraq war claimed victims among the media covering it Saturday, when an Australian television cameraman was killed in northeastern Iraq by an apparent suicide car bombing, and three other journalists were wounded and missing near the southern city of Basra, according to officials with several news organizations.

The death of Paul Moran, a freelance journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corp., and the incident involving three reporters for ITN, a British television network, caused Pentagon officials to issue new warnings to journalists who are covering the war independently, instead of traveling with coalition armed forces.

"We ask all news organizations to exercise restraint, especially when journalists are putting themselves between coalition forces and Iraqi forces," said spokeswoman Victoria Clarke. "It is very, very dangerous out there."

Clarke acknowledged at a late afternoon briefing that details were still sketchy about the incidents, but she said, "We are quite certain that none of these journalists were embedded with coalition forces."

In another incident, two journalists with Newsweek came under fire Saturday but reportedly escaped from Iraqi captors after going into hiding. Reporter Scott Johnson and photographer Luc Delahaye hid for several hours after their caravan was attacked, Newsweek spokesman Ken Weine said. The two were later rescued by U.S. forces; Weine declined to give any more details.

The first known death of a Western journalist in the conflict came as Moran and a colleague, Eric Campbell, were filming a story about Kurdish refugees at a checkpoint near the village of Khurmal.

Campbell, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the explosion, said he and Moran had been working on the story near a camp thought to belong to a militant Islamic group, Ansar al Islam, when a white sedan suddenly pulled up beside him and exploded.

"We were thrown back and Paul was dead," Campbell said in an ABC interview.

The night before, U.S. forces had bombed the camp, whose leaders have been linked by Kurdish and U.S. military officials to Al Qaeda terrorists. Although evidence was sketchy, some Kurdish officials said the attack was intended to single out a journalist in response to the American bombing.

The blast, which killed four other people, was witnessed by Los Angeles Times correspondent Jeffrey Fleishman. He wrote that Moran, 39, had been walking close to the white car to film the driver when the car was rocked by an explosion. The blast, he said, "ripped through a guardhouse. Papers and identity cards swirled in the wind and soldiers scrambled."

Elsewhere, Britain's ITN reported Saturday that three members of a news crew -- including veteran reporter Terry Lloyd, cameraman Fred Nerac and translator Hussein Othman -- were wounded and missing after they came under fire en route to a story near Basra.

A fourth member of the ITN team, cameraman Daniel Demoustier, escaped major injuries after the firing began and told his news organization that he was able to only partially witness what had happened. He said the crew, traveling in two vehicles, had entered an area where there were British and Iraqi forces, and that the group had just passed a group of Iraqi soldiers.

"I was overtaken by one of the Iraqi vehicles," he said. "They gave me a thumbs up, then all of a sudden we were fired on from the right-hand side. I ducked down in my seat and kept driving.

"The windows of the car were exploding; things were exploding in the car. In a split second I saw the right door, near where my colleague [Lloyd] had been, and he was no longer there anymore. I sincerely hope he managed to jump out."

Brian Walski, a Los Angeles Times photographer, was traveling with other journalists nearby and offered a different perspective on the attack.

"They [the ITN news team] came across some Iraqis, an Iraqi military column, or a couple of vehicles or something, and there were Marines on the other side," he said. "And they got in between the Marines and the Iraqis, and the Marines opened fire on the Iraqis. These guys got caught up in the cross-fire."

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