Missile Destroys Al-Jazeera Office
By Kathy Gannon
Tuesday, November 13, 2001; 2:23 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan –– The Kabul office of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which has been criticized by the United States for its coverage of the Afghan conflict, was hit early Tuesday by what the channel's director said was a U.S. missile.
No one was in the two-story building housing the office when the rocket slammed into it before dawn, as columns of Taliban soldiers poured south out of the capital, said Ghulal Mohammed, a guard at the office in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood.
"It was a rocket, but everyone is OK," he said. He said the missile did not explode.
Twisted steel reinforcement bars jutted from the building, and one side of the Al-Jazeera office had totally collapsed.
Al-Jazeera's managing director, Mohammed Jassim al-Ali, said the office was hit by a U.S. missile before dawn and that nobody was there at the time. He said its 10 staffers were believed to be safe but their whereabouts were unknown.
"All our equipment has been destroyed, but we believe that all our crew are safe," al-Ali told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Qatar, where the channel is headquartered. "We don't know where our crew members are. We are trying to see how we can communicate with them."
The nearby offices of The Associated Press and the British Broadcasting Corp. in Kabul were damaged by an explosion that rocked the neighborhood at the same time that Al-Jazeera's office was hit. Windows in both offices were shattered.
AP correspondent Kathy Gannon and other staffers were in the building but were not injured. The BBC in London said three of its staffers were in the office but also escaped injury.
Asked if he thought Al-Jazeera's office was deliberately targeted, al-Ali said: "They know where we are located and they know what we have in our office and we also did not get any warning."
If it was a U.S. missile, the target was unclear.
Several houses in the neighborhood were targeted by U.S. jets late Monday and early Tuesday. Arabs who apparently belonged to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, as well as Pakistani, Chechen and Uzbek warriors who fought alongside the Taliban, occupied houses in the neighborhood.
A Taliban government ministry was across the street from the office, and Taliban anti-aircraft positions were located on a hill nearby.
After the Taliban fled Kabul overnight, fighters from the anti-Taliban northern alliance marched in from the north.
Afghan workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kabul said a rocket fired from a U.S. jet hit a pickup truck, killing four Arabs. The charred bodies of the four unidentified men were taken by the Red Cross.
Al-Jazeera has aired taped statements said to be made inside Afghanistan by bin Laden and his aides, and its reporter Tasir Alouni became familiar to Arab viewers around the world, providing live reports from Taliban-controlled areas barred to most Western reporters.
He often described U.S. missiles hitting civilian areas and killing women and children. The United States has disputed Taliban claims of widespread civilian casualties.
American officials have criticized Al-Jazeera's coverage of the bombing campaign as inflammatory propaganda.
But the 24-hour station reaches more than 35 million Arabs, including 150,000 in the United States, and the Bush administration has acknowledged its significance lately.
The station recently interviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera showed CNN footage from Kabul and live coverage Tuesday from its five-member crew in the Taliban's home base, the southern city of Kandahar.