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ITV journalists 'killed by US troops'

London Guardian | March 23 2004

Two ITV journalists who went missing in the attack in which veteran reporter Terry Lloyd died were killed by US troops, according to new witness reports.

Fred Nerac, the ITN cameraman, and his translator Hussein Osman have not been seen since a shooting incident between coalition forces and Iraqis close to Basra a year ago today.

But fresh evidence suggests they were blasted by tanks or helicopter gunships as Iraqis tried to take them to safety in a pick-up truck.

Three people who were in the truck told ITV's Tonight programme the two missing men were killed by US troops while they were in the vehicle.

"There were inconsistencies. But the three people told broadly the same story, that Fred and Hussein had been put in a pick-up that was then shot to pieces by the Americans," said ITN journalist Nick Walshe, who led the investigation for the news organisation.

"What happened to any bodies we still don't know a year on," he added.

Their story is backed up by a French journalist and friend of Nerac, who interviewed a fourth man claiming to have been in the truck.

The witness said Nerac and Osman were picked up to be taken to a "safe place", but the vehicle was fired on shortly afterwards.

"Nearly one kilometre on, I felt immediately we attacked from where I don't know exactly... from the auto-sphere, from the ground, helicopter, tank, I don't feel. I just feel myself as injured," the witness told the programme, to be shown tonight on ITV.

An army source added: "It's our firm belief that Fred and Hussein were hit as Iraqis tried to get them out."

Camerman recalls

Nerac and Osman were part of a four-man team travelling in a convoy up through Iraq from Kuwait two days after war broke out.

Lloyd, who was a front-seat passenger in the first of the two Jeeps, was in the direct line of fire and died instantly. Cameraman Daniel Demoustier, who was with Lloyd, survived the attack. He described how the Jeep he was driving became a ball of fire when petrol cans stored on the roof exploded as they were hit by tracer rounds.

Immediately he put his foot on the accelerator, covered his head with his hands and reversed as quickly as he could before diving for safety in a ditch. Before getting out he looked across to the passenger seat but Lloyd was gone.

From the ditch he got a brief glimpse of Nerac as he ran across the highway after the first Jeep was shot at but neither his body nor that of Osman has ever been found.

Demoustier explains how they had driven from the Kuwaiti border to reach the area around Basra a key target in the early days of the war. When they came across a small group of Iraqis carrying weapons, and decided to turn back.

But when he looked behind he realised the second car, carrying his two colleagues, had been stopped.

"I was saying to myself, 'come on Fred', when eventually to my relief they started to move off," he says.

'Gunfire erupted all around us'

"I put my foot down, wanting to get out of there and just at that moment I looked to my left and saw a white pick-up truck with senior-looking Iraqis in uniform in it. They were gesturing. I thought maybe they were going to surrender, but before I could think about it, gunfire erupted all around us," he says.

Demoustier hid in a ditch for about an hour and was eventually picked up by a car carrying the Mail on Sunday veteran Barbara Jones, but was unable to find his colleagues.

"I could see the car of Fred and Hussein down the road and I could see an ambulance coming at some stage taking up probably dead or wounded people, an ambulance of the Red Cross," he says.

Lloyd's body was eventually found in a nearby hospital. A postmortem revealed two wounds from bullets, one Iraqi and one American.

But the fate of Nerac and Osman remains shrouded in mystery.

A Royal Military Police investigation into the deaths was launched last year but has still not reported its conclusions.

The revelations came as Nerac's wife Fabienne told MediaGuardian.co.uk she will not give up her fight to get at the truth, so that she can draw a line under the trauma she and her family have suffered.

"I will keep this thing going. What I would like to know is a clear answer - is he dead or is he alive? If he is dead, then we'll have this or that reason, and it will be much better," she said.

The programme also includes an interview with Andy Cutraro, one of two American journalists embedded with the US troops who arrived at the scene of the incident just hours later.

TV footage of their arrival shows Cutraro and his colleague trying to persuade the soldiers to go up to the burned-out car Lloyd had been travelling in and see whether there were any survivors.

"If someone in that car was wounded and because of everybody's reaction to cover their rear I would be upset that somebody could have been injured and bled to death because no one wanted to make the move up there and inspect the car," Cutraro tells the programme.

But the American tanks stayed on their positions for the rest of the day. By dawn all trace of Nerac and Osman and their car had disappeared.
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