We speak with Al Arabiya reporter Najwa Kasem, about her colleague Mazen al-Tumeisi–the Palestinian journalist who was killed last weekend when a U.S. helicopter opened fired at an unarmed crowd surrounding a burning U.S. army vehicle. [includes rush transcript]
Sunday marked on the bloodiest days of the US occupation of Iraq where over 100 people were killed. One of the most terrifying incidents came when a US helicopter opened fire on a crowd milling around an abandoned Bradley armored vehicle that the Pentagon says had been attacked.
At least 13 people were killed, including children, in the US helicopter attack on the crowd. Reuters footage showed the crowd was of unarmed boys and men, two of whom were standing on top of the Bradley. The US strikes also killed a journalist from the Arab TV network al Arabiya. The network broadcast harrowing footage of its correspondent, Mazen al-Tumeisi, reporting from the scene when he is hit by shrapnel.
- Reuters footage of helicopter attack on Haifa Street, Baghdad.
That was a clip from footage captured by Reuters of the incident. After being hit by shrapnel, Mazen al-Tumeisi doubles over and his blood splatters on the camera lens as he screams, “I’m a journalist. I’m dying, I’m dying.” Moments later, he was pronounced dead. He was 26 years old.
Seif Fouad, the camera operator for Reuters Television, and Ghaith Abdul Ahad, a freelance photographer working for Getty Images, were wounded in the strike. Abdul Ahad wrote in an article in the Guardian that U.S. helicopters again fired into the crowd, just minutes after the first attack.
Mazen al-Tumeisi is a Palestinian who has lived in Iraq for a number of years. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he is the 20th journalist to be killing in Iraq in 2004. A US military spokesperson said US troops fired on the Bradley “for the safety of the people around it.” Another spokesperson said the strike was necessary to prevent looting of the vehicle.
To talk about Mazen al-Tumeisi we are joined by one his colleagues on the phone from Baghdad.
- Najwa Kasem, an anchor for Al-Arabiya as well as a fill in host for their talk show “Inside Iraq.”
AMY GOODMAN: We have some footage from Seif Fouad, the camera operator for Reuters TV who Luke Harding described, himself was injured as his colleague, Mazen al-Tumeisi, dies in front of him saying, “I’m dying! I’m dying!”
AMY GOODMAN: As he shouts, “I’m a journalist! I’m dying! I’m dying!,” his blood has splattered on the lens of the camera. Mazen al-Tumeisi is a Palestinian who has lived in Iraq for a number of years. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he’s the 20th journalist to be killed in Iraq in 2004. A U.S. military spokesperson said U.S. troops fired on the Bradley for the safety of the people around it. Another spokesperson said that the strike was necessary to prevent the looting of the vehicle. We’re joined right now by Najwa Kasem, who was an anchor for Al Arabiya, as well as a fill-in host for the talk show, Inside Iraq. She is the colleague of Mazen al-Tumeisi. She joins us from Baghdad. Welcome to Democracy Now!
NAJWA KASEM: Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about Mazen?
NAJWA KASEM: Actually, I met Mazen when I came here three weeks ago. He was working for Al Arabiya, the sister company to Al Arabiya, but he was a colleague as well for Al Arabiya as you mentioned with your producer. He’s a very nice guy. Really very nice guy. Very enthusiastic. He was always ready to do anything. He was very enthusiastic to cover all kinds of events. He died because of this. He was planning to go to his family at the end of the next month, which is the Ramadan. It’s a very important ceremony and celebration for Muslims. It was the first time that he joined his family for that celebration since — from 11 years. And he was planning to get married next summer. So, he bought a van and a house. He was very happy. He was talking about it all the time that finally he had a house now and he wanted to go there to get married and establish himself and his family. And especially that morning, it was really a horrifying morning because the night before we were all together, one of our friends got married and we were celebrating that he is — celebrating this, that marriage, and he was so happy. He was singing. He was dancing. And the next morning, he was gone. It was really horrifying for us, especially that he is the third one from our Al Arabiya family in Baghdad that we lose this year. Now, I can’t tell you how much that the last two days were really difficult for us. He was around us. He was here. He — we can see him every report he did before, and the most horrifying thing that we heard him saying to his colleague, “I’m dying! Come to me! I’m dying! I’m dying!” These were his last words. And this was really terrible.
AMY GOODMAN: We are a radio and TV show, and for the TV viewers, we were just showing the funeral near Hebron of Mazen al-Tumeisi, thousands of people turned out as they carried his body through the streets. Najwa Kasem, how do you function in Iraq as a woman as a reporter. There are not many women reporters there.
NAJWA KASEM: The difficulties in Iraq are not women only; all journalists are feeling the difficulties. It’s really hard to move in Baghdad. You’re always afraid when you pass by a police car, you’re always afraid when you pass by a crowd of people you don’t know whether a bomb could explode at any moment. So many streets, including Haifa Street where Mazen was killed are very, very tense streets; always there are bombardments there or there are fights. You are really aware to leave the place that you live in during the night. We can’t move after maybe eight or nine at night. Of course, we’re very afraid to go to so many places, hot places like Fallujah or Ramadi or Baquba. You always feel that around, because the journalists are the targets of everyone. We are the targets of the militia groups who are working in Iraq, and we are the targets of the American forces. Our colleagues were killed by American fire, unfortunately. All of them were killed during covering events. The journalists here are really targets of anyone. They are targets of kidnappings for political purposes, for any reason, the journalists are here in danger. And at the same time, Iraq is the most hot place in the world. We have to be here. We are always — every day we are thinking about, okay, thanks god we’re living one more day. But you have to be here, and I don’t know who really can afford the security of journalists, and I think that now we should think about moving as journalists because only the media can say to themselves. Nobody is aware of us here. Nobody! All of the fighting groups are not thinking about the safety of the journalists. We have to move to do this after all of these killings, especially in Iraq, since the war last year. I think that we should really move for this now.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Najwa Kasem for joining us. Finally, has the U.S. military spoken to you or to Al Arabiya about the killing of Mazen al-Tumeisi and the dozen other people who were killed as they opened fire on this abandoned humvee?
NAJWA KASEM: Actually, the American position is really one — really is very surprising, because at least the first time our colleagues were killed six months ago, (they were Ali al-Khatib and Ali Abdel-Aziz) when they were killed by American fire, at least maybe the American forces here tried to say sorry, at least. You know, they came here, they said it was an accident. They tried to say something. This time, we tried to get any statements from them, about the death of Mazen, they said it was terrorist group gathering there around the vehicle that hit it that morning, and this guy has collected some of his friends and came to celebrate this. He was one of the terrorists. This was what they told us on the phone. They didn’t even issue a statement, an official statement about it; only that it was a fighting group there and we hit at them because they were terrorists and we don’t want them to do anything to the Iraqi people. This was the American position, and it was really surprising and sad.
AMY GOODMAN: Najwa Kasem, thank you for joining us. Also be safe. Najwa Kasem an anchor for Al Arabiya, and one of the hosts from Inside Iraq. She’s speaking to us from Baghdad.