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British journalist 'unlawfully killed' by US forces
The Sydney Morning Herald/AP/AFP
October 14, 2006

US forces unlawfully killed a British television journalist in the opening days of the Iraq war, a coroner ruled on Friday.

Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker said he would ask the attorney-general to take steps to bring to justice those responsible for the death of Terry Lloyd, 50, a veteran reporter for the British television network ITN.

The Pentagon has rejected the verdict.

"Terry Lloyd died following a gunshot wound to the head. The evidence this bullet was fired by the Americans is overwhelming," Walker said.

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 when US fire hit an ambulance and struck him in the head.

"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 upon the minibus," Walker said.

Lloyd and 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 US or British forces.

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

She called the killing a war crime - "a despicable, deliberate, vengeful act". Lebanese interpreter Hussein Osman also was killed in the ITN crew, and cameraman Fred Nerac remains missing and presumed dead. Only ITN cameraman Daniel Demoustier survived.

"In my opinion, the US forces involved should be prosecuted for war crimes," Demoustier said following the ruling.

He said the inquest did not make clear whether the bullet that killed Lloyd was fired by a US tank or helicopter. He said the forces in a tank would have been able to see they were firing at a civilian vehicle, but a helicopter would not.

Demoustier, a Belgian, had told the inquest that ITN's two 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 realised the passenger door was open and Lloyd was gone.

Petrol cans they were carrying on the roof of the vehicle ignited, and Demoustier said he leaped from the car just before it exploded.

He lay in the sand, waiting for the shooting to stop. Demoustier said he tried to stand to signal US 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 rescued in the car of a British newspaper reporter.

US authorities did not allow servicemen to testify at the inquest. Several submitted statements the coroner ruled inadmissible.

The Pentagon said its own investigation into the incident concluded in May 2003 that "US forces followed the applicable rules of engagement".

"The Department of Defence has never deliberately targeted non-combatants, including journalists," the Pentagon said in a statement. "We have always gone to extreme measures to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage."

The Pentagon statement said its investigation was "limited to the engagement of the vehicle Mr Lloyd was traveling in".

"It has been an unfortunate reality that journalists have died in Iraq," it said.

"Combat operations are inherently dangerous, and we do not take lightly our responsibilities in the conduct of these operations. We do not, nor would we ever, deliberately target a non-combatant civilian or journalist," it said.

The US Embassy in London said it had no immediate reaction to the ruling.

The court watched a video on Tuesday, filmed by a US 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 - which may have served as the ambulance - appears and more shots are fired.

At the end of the tape, a US 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 British jurisdiction where the body is returned.

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