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Imprisonment of an Al-Jazeera journalist

The Arab press in the firing line

The leading war correspondent of Al-Jazeera, Tayseer Aluni, was arrested on 8 September 2003 in Spain. The judge Baltazar Garzón accuses him of being "an eminent member of Al Qaida", according to information supplied by Israeli and US intelligence services. The reports by Tayseer Aluni on the losses and damages suffered by the civil population in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, brought the wrath of the Pentagon on hi head. A delegation from the Voltaire Network for the Freedom of expression went to the editorial group of Al-Jazeera to show its support for Aluni.

| Doha (Qatar)
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Late news: Tayseer Aluni was released on 23 October 2003, after 45 days in jail.

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Tayseer Aluni
The journalist of Al-Jazeera is detained in Spain thanks to information of the Israeli and US intelligences.

The leading war correspondent of Al-Jazeera, Tayseer Aluni, was arrested the 8 September 2003 in Spain, then imprisoned in the maximum security jail Soto del Real, following prolonged interrogation in police custody. The Spanish state juge leading terror related investigations, Baltazar Garzon, accuses the journalist of being "an eminent member of Al Qaida".

With dual Spanish and Syrian nationality, Tayseer Aluni began his journalist career in the Spanish national press agency EFE before moving to Al-Jazeera. He became renowned with his founding of an Al-Jazeera bureau in the Kabul of the Talibans, and his interview of Osama bin Laden shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks. During the US war on Afghanistan, his coverage of the civil losses and damages caused by US military action raised hackles in the Pentagon. His office was then « accidentally » bombarded by the US Air Force. During the war of the United States against Iraq, he reported the suffering of civil populations and the ambiguous, variable attitudes of Coalition soldiers. His Baghdad office was then bombarded, killing one of his colleagues. He found shelter in the office of colleagues from Abu Dhabi TV, which was then also bombarded. Because he didn’t know where to go to, he then moved in with Spanish colleagues at the Palestine hotel. This almost immediately became another target for US bombardment, killing a Spanish cameraman.

According to information from Israeli and US intelligence services, the judge Baltazar Garzon did not accuse Tayseer Aluni of being a journalist who had merely established contacts with Al Qaida, but of being a key member of the terrorist organization who had infiltrated Al-JAzeera on a long-term base. Continuing with the accusation by Garzon, Aluni in his Spanish voyages would have founded that country’s Al Qaida cell, and brought Mohammed Atta into its orbit, Atta being accused by US intelligence of being the brain behind the 9/11 attacks. Aluni’s Spanish cell would have been about thrirty persons strong, all of these persons being arrested and imprisoned in Spanish polic’s ‘Datil’ swoop. Aluni and the other suspects should be judged in Madrid next year. The claimed discovery of an Islamic terror cell in Spain gave an important new political argument for the Aznar government, whose ‘me too’ following of US policy and strategy in the Mid East has been massively contested by street protest all over Spain.. Strangely, despite the accusations made against them, not one of of the ‘Aluni cell’ suspects is the subject of an extradition request by the US.

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According to information from various intelligence services, judge Garzon would also have accused Tayseer Aluni of being a traveling paymaster for Al Qaida. According to his legal attorneys, the journalist in fact had occasionally brought small amounts of money to friends in Afghanistan and Iraq; among others a sum of 1000 dollars at the occasion of a marriage. In total, Aluni would not have transported more than 4000 dollars in all his voyages. Following the arrest of Al-Jazeera’s correspondent, Aidan White, Secretary-general of the International federation of journalists, noted that « during recent years, rising irritation by the Occident, and especially the United States, has focused Arab medias, and particularly Al-Jazeera. Its offices were attacked firstly in Afghanistan, then two times in Iraq. With this latest arrest, this is getting to look like a witch hunt ».

This affair should be related to the closure of the Zayed Centre in Abu Dhabi, on 27 August. Following a violent defamation campaign in the United States, initiated by organization friendly with Ariel Sharon, with back-up pressure from the US State department, the sheikh Al-Zayed bin-Nahyan decided to close the centre bearing his name. The Centre employed one hundred twenty resident researchers and one hundred forty research associates. It had become Washington’s bugbear since the centre translated and distributed an Arab version of ‘The Big Lie’. « The closure of the Zayed Centre is a major loss for intellectual life in the Arab world », commented Amre Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League.

On 9 September, a delegation from the Voltaire Network for the freedom of expression led by president Thierry Meyssan and Network secretary-general Jean-Claude Ramos, brought their support to colleagues and friends of Tayseer Aluni, at the editorial offices of Al-Jazeera in Doha (Qatar). Thierry Meyssan observed that « neither by bombarding civil populations, nor by arresting journalists will democracy be favoured in the Middle East. Democracy is favoured by defending the freedoms and the plurality of the press.»

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