CAIRO, Egypt – Arab news media reacted cautiously Wednesday to the videotaped beheading of an American in Iraq, with some newspapers conspicuously playing it down.
Some commentators condemned the slaying and lamented that it would draw attention away from U.S. soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Others said their opinions of the U.S. government had fallen so low that they have difficulty speaking out against the beheading.
"In normal circumstances, I could condemn the slaughtering of the American, but we are living in abnormal circumstances. I cannot condemn it now," said Egyptian columnist Nour al-Huda Zaki (search).
"The country that advocates human rights principles is now violating them and taking us back to the dark ages."
Zaki, a senior journalist for the Cairo newspaper Al-Arabi (search), said she expected few Arab newspapers to cover the beheading extensively because reporting on it could be read as condemning it.
Indeed, across the Arab world there were few banner headlines or televised reports about the killing of Nicholas Berg (search), the 26-year-old American shown beheaded in a videotape posted Tuesday on a militant Web site. The video claimed responsibility in the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden.
A notable exception was Kuwait's Al-Siyassah daily, which ran a photo of a masked militant holding up Berg's severed head. Five of Kuwait's seven dailies published front-page reports on the killing.
The biggest pan-Arab television stations — Al-Jazeera (search) and Al-Arabiya — broadcast brief segments of the video Tuesday night and carried longer footage Wednesday. Neither station showed the beheading itself.
"The news story itself is strong enough," said Al-Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout. "To show the actual beheading is out of the realm of decency."
Arab television stations are less reluctant to show bloody images from wars than some stations in the West, but said they drew the line at showing a beheading.
The presenter on Lebanon's private Al Hayat-LBC station, which led its bulletins Wednesday with the video, said: "We apologize to our viewers for not showing the entire tape because of the ugliness of the scene."
Kuwait's state television broadcast news of the execution but not the video. In Jordan, state television aired its report along with a still photo from the video.
The beheading got little attention in Wednesday's newspapers in most Arab countries.
Egypt's leading daily, Al-Ahram, ignored the beheading. Two other major pro-government newspapers, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuria, ran news agency reports on inside pages without photographs.
An Al-Ahram editor, Ahmed Reda, said the news came too late for the newspaper to confirm the video's authenticity with the U.S. government. Thursday's edition of the newspaper carried a story on page four but no photograph.
Newspapers in Syria, where the government tightly controls the press, did not report the beheading. Nor did any newspapers in Iraq, although that may have been because the news broke late.
Jordan's mass circulation Al Rai published a report on the execution Wednesday on an inside page without a photograph.
The two English-language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates ran news agency reports without photographs, one on the front page and the other on page 14. Two Arabic-language newspapers in the UAE carried brief items inside without photographs, and a third didn't mention it.
Most Lebanese newspapers reported on the killing and ran a photograph of Berg sitting in front of the militants.
The video was released too late Tuesday evening for Middle East newspaper columnists. But many Arabs said Wednesday the beheading drew attention from the U.S. military's abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison.
"We were winning international sympathy because of what happened at Abu Ghraib, but they come and waste it all," Abdullah Sahar, a Kuwait University political scientist, said of the militants who killed Berg.
In the video, the masked militants said they were taking revenge on Berg, of West Chester, Pa., because of the abuses at the Baghdad prison.
Mustafa Bakri, editor of Al-Osboa weekly newspaper in Egypt, said Berg's execution will only harm efforts to expose American offenses against Iraqis.
"Such revenge is rejected," Bakri said of the beheading. "The American administration will make use of such crimes just to cover their real crimes against Iraqis."