Arab satellite channel's Kabul office destroyed by missile

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The Independent Online

The Kabul office of the Arab satellite channel Al–Jazeera, which the United States has criticized for its coverage of the Afghan campaign, was destroyed early on Tuesday by a US missile, the channel's managing director said.

No one was in the office when it was hit before dawn. The 10 staffers, including reporter Tasir Alouni, operating out of the office were believed safe, but their whereabouts were not known, said managing director Mohammed Jassim al–Ali.

"All our equipment has been destroyed, but we believe that all our crew are safe," al–Ali told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Qatar, the channel's headquarters. He estimated the loss at dlrs 800,000.

"We don't know where our crew members are. We are trying to see how we can communicate with them," al–Ali said,

It may be difficult for Arab members of the crew, including Alouni, to move about in Kabul, where they might by mistaken for Arabs who had come to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban religious militia. The Taliban, who saw their hold on Afghanistan erode under a U.S. bombing campaign that began Oct. 7, fled Kabul overnight and bands of heavily armed northern alliance soldiers roamed Kabul Tuesday seeking Arab, Pakistani, Chechen and other Taliban allies. At least five Pakistanis and two Arabs were killed.

The target of Tuesday's attack was unclear. The United States has been bombing Afghanistan, targeting Taliban military and government installations, because the militia harbored Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

The Taliban Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue was across the street from the Al–Jazeera office. Taliban anti–aircraft positions were located on a hill nearby and the neighborhood, Wazir Akbar Khan, was home to many Taliban officials.

When asked if he thought Al–Jazeera's office was deliberately targeted, al–Ali said, "They know where we are located and they know what (equipment) we have in our office and we also did not get any warning."

The same missile that destroyed the Al–Jazeera office also damaged the offices of The Associated Press and the BBC.

In Kabul Tuesday, one side of the house in which Al Jazeera's office was located was caved in, with twisted steel reinforcement rods jutting out. Alouni was believed to have left the city during the night. It wasn't clear whether he left on his own or with the Taliban.

The bearded Alouni, usually appearing dressed in a khaki vest, had become familiar to Arab viewers around the world, providing live reports from Taliban–controlled areas barred to most Western reporters. He had often described U.S. missiles hitting civilian areas and killing women and children.