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Coroner: U.S. killed British TV reporter

Associated Press | October 13, 2006

A coroner ruled Friday that U.S. forces unlawfully killed a British television journalist in the opening days of the Iraq war, and said he would ask the attorney general to take steps to bring those responsible to justice.

Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker made his ruling in the case of Terry Lloyd, a 50-year-old reporter for the British television network ITN who was killed on March 22, 2003.

The Pentagon said its forces had followed proper rules of engagement.

Witnesses testified during the weeklong inquest that Lloyd who was driving with fellow ITN reporters from Kuwait toward Basra, Iraq was shot in the back by Iraqi troops who overtook his car, then died after U.S. fire hit a civilian minivan being used as an ambulance and struck him in the head.

"Terry Lloyd died following a gunshot wound to the head. The evidence this bullet was fired by the Americans is overwhelming," Walker said. "There is no doubt that the minibus presented no threat to the American forces. There is no doubt it was an unlawful act of fire."

In Washington, the Defense Department said a U.S. investigation "determined that U.S. forces followed the applicable rules of engagement."

"The Department of Defense has never deliberately targeted noncombatants, including journalists," the Pentagon said. "We have always gone to extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage."

ITN cameraman Daniel Demoustier, the sole survivor, told the inquest that ITN's pair of four-wheel drive vehicles were overtaken by a truck carrying Iraqi forces and that gunfire erupted.

"The hell broke loose completely. I was absolutely sure I was going to die," Demoustier told the inquest. Driving blindly in smoke, Demoustier said he realized the passenger door was open and Lloyd was gone.

Demoustier, a Belgian, said he jumped from his flaming car and lay in the sand, waiting for the shooting to stop. Demoustier said he tried to stand to signal U.S. tanks in the area but that they resumed firing at the clearly marked ITN vehicles.

Demoustier said he saw a Red Crescent ambulance arrive and pick up people. He was later taken to safety in the car of a British newspaper reporter.

The coroner said Friday that a civilian drove up in a minivan, pulled a U-turn and picked up four wounded Iraqi soldiers, then saw Lloyd with a press card around his neck and helped him into the van. Lloyd was shot in the head as the van drove off toward a hospital, the coroner said.

Demoustier said after the ruling that the inquest had not made clear whether the bullet that killed Lloyd was fired by a U.S. tank or helicopter. He said the forces in a tank would have been able to see that they were firing at a civilian vehicle, but a helicopter would not.

Lloyd's widow, Lynn, in a statement read by her lawyer, said U.S. forces "allowed their soldiers to behave like trigger-happy cowboys in an area in which there were civilians traveling."

She called the killing a war crime "a despicable, deliberate, vengeful act."

Lloyd and the three other ITN crew members were some of the few Western reporters who covered the fighting on their own, while most others were embedded with U.S. or British forces.

Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman also was killed in the ITN crew, and cameraman Fred Nerac remains missing and presumed dead.

U.S. authorities didn't allow servicemen to testify at the inquest. Several submitted statements that the coroner ruled inadmissible.

"I should have heard all evidence from the American personnel. I have not been able to call any evidence," Walker said. "It was not satisfactory or appropriate to read these statements in place of that evidence."

The court watched a video Tuesday, filmed by a U.S. serviceman attached to one of the tanks accused of firing at the reporters' cars. The tape opens with images of Lloyd's vehicle and the Iraqi truck burning amid gunfire. The tanks drive to the cars and inspect them. A minivan possibly the ambulance appears and more shots are fired.

At the end of the tape, a U.S. soldier shouts, "It's some media personnel! That's media down there!"

A forensic examiner said the first 15 minutes of the tape may have been erased.

In Britain, inquests take place when a person dies violently, unexpectedly, or of unknown causes. In the case of an overseas death, the inquest is held in the first English jurisdiction where the body is returned.

After the ruling, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists called on the United States to explain its involvement in the deaths of 20 journalists killed in Iraq.

"If this was murder as the court suggests and the U.S. is responsible, it is certainly a war crime," said Aidan White, head of the IFJ.

By the organization's count, some 148 journalists and news staff have been killed since the war began in 2003, "many in targeted attacks," it said. It added that threats, attacks, kidnappings and killings are part of daily life for many Iraqi and foreign reporters adding that working conditions for journalists there have gotten increasingly dangerous due to continued fighting.



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