BAGHDAD, Iraq – Fellow journalists accused U.S. troops of negligence in the shooting death of a Reuters cameraman, saying it was clear the victim was a newsman when soldiers on two tanks opened fire.
Mazen Dana, 41, was shot and killed by U.S. soldiers Sunday while videotaping near a U.S.-run prison on the outskirts of Baghdad. The U.S. Army said its soldiers mistook his camera for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
The film Dana shot showed a tank driving toward him. Six shots were heard, and the camera appeared to tilt forward and drop to the ground after the first shot.
Dana was working outside the Abu Ghraib (search) prison after a mortar attack there Sunday in which six prisoners were killed and about 60 wounded. Witnesses said Dana was dressed in civilian clothes.
"We were all there, for at least half an hour. They knew we were journalists. After they shot Mazen, they aimed their guns at us. I don't think it was accident. They are very tense. They are crazy," said Stephan Breitner of France 2 (search) television.
Breitner said soldiers tried to resuscitate Dana but failed.
"They are young soldiers and they don't understand what is happening," Breitner said.
A U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity that American soldiers saw Dana from a distance and mistook him for an Iraqi guerrilla, so they opened fire. When the soldiers came closer, they realized Dana was a journalist, the official said.
"This is clearly another tragic incident, it is extremely regrettable," Central Command spokesman Sgt. Maj. Lewis Matson said.
Dana's driver, Munzer Abbas, said Dana had got out of the car when he saw the tanks approaching.
"We saw a tank, 50 meters away. I heard six shots and Mazen fell to the ground. One of the soldiers started shouting at us, but when he knew we were journalists, he softened. One of the soldiers told us they thought Mazen carrying a rocket-propelled grenade," said Abbas.
"There were many journalists around. They knew we were journalists. This was not an accident," he said.
Reuters quoted soundman Nael al-Shyoukhi, who was with Dana, as saying that the U.S. soldiers "saw us and they knew about our identities and our mission.
"After we filmed we went into the car and prepared to go when a convoy led by a tank arrived and Mazen stepped out of the car to film. I followed him and Mazen walked three to four meters. We were noted and seen clearly," al-Shyoukhi said.
"A soldier on the tank shot at us. I lay on the ground. I heard Mazen and I saw him scream and touching his chest.
"I cried at the soldier, telling him you killed a journalist. They shouted at me and asked me to step back and I said 'I will step back but please help, please help and stop the bleed.'"
He said they tried to help him but Dana was bleeding heavily.
"Mazen took a last breath and died before my eyes."
At the Reuters headquarters in Baghdad, the mood was gloomy, and journalists from different organizations converged to express condolences. Dana's camera lay on the floor in the editing room.
"Mazen was one of Reuters' finest cameramen and we are devastated by his loss. He was a brave and an award winning journalist who had worked in many of the world's hotspots," said Stephen Jukes, Reuters' global head of news, in a statement.
Dana's death brings to 13 the number of journalists who were killed in Iraq since the start of the war on March 20.
Two Independent Television News journalists, cameraman Fred Nerac of France and translator Hussein Osman of Lebanon, have been missing since a shooting incident March 22 in southern Iraq in which correspondent Terry Lloyd was killed.
An outspoken critic of the Israeli government's treatment of journalists, Dana was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists (search) with an International Press Freedom Award in November 2001 for his work covering conflict in his hometown of Hebron in the West Bank. He was shot at least three times in 2000, according to the citation on the group's web site.
Dana was married and had four children.
"Words and images are a public trust and for this reason I will continue with my work regardless of the hardships, even if it costs me my life," Dana said after accepting the award.
"He was committed to covering the story wherever it was and he was an inspiration to friends and colleagues at Reuters and throughout the industry," said Jukes.
Abbas, the driver, recalled how Dana was telling al-Shyoukhi of the war stories he had covered over the years.
"He said he wanted to take a shot of the prison from a house with a vantage point. Nael told him to be careful because of the Americans. Mazen said he wasn't too worried as long as they don't shoot him."