Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera reporter with more than two decades of experience covering armed conflicts, knew the protocol. She and other reporters remained in the open, clearly visible to Israeli snipers about 650 feet away. Her flak jacket was emblazoned with the word “PRESS.”
There were two initial rounds of shooting that were fired at the journalists. In the first, producer Ali Al-Samoudi was shot. As the journalists turned to run away from the gunfire, Shireen was shot below her helmet during the second round, according to the Human Rights organization Al Haq.
There were a few seconds when the Israeli sniper saw profiled in his scope Abu Akleh, one of the most recognizable faces in the Middle East. The accuracy of the M-16, especially the M16A4s equipped with the Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG), a prismatic telescopic sight, is very high. In the fighting in Fallujah so many dead insurgents were found with head wounds that observers at first thought they had been executed. The bullet that killed Abu Akleh was deftly placed between the very slim opening separating her helmet and the collar of her flak jacket.
I have been in combat, including in clashes between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Snipers are dreaded on a battlefield because each kill is calculated. The execution of Abu Akleh was not an accident. She was singled out for elimination. Whether this killing was ordered by commanding officers, or whether it was the whim of an Israeli sniper, I cannot answer. Israelis shoot so many Palestinians with impunity my guess is the sniper knew he or she could kill Abu Akleh and never face any consequences.
The shooting, Al Jazeera said in a statement, was “a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms.” Abu Akleh, the network added, was “assassinated in cold blood.”
Abu Akleh, who was 51 and a Palestinian-American, was a familiar and trusted presence on television screens throughout the region, revered for her courage and integrity and beloved for her careful and sensitive reporting on the intricacies of daily life under the occupation. Her reporting from the occupied territories routinely punctured Israeli narratives and exposed Israeli abuses and crimes, making her the bête noire of the Israeli government. It is very hard to believe she was not a deliberate target. Joining me to discuss the murder of Abu Akleh and the refusal by the Biden administration to hold Israel accountable for the killing is Kavitha Chekuru, a senior producer for the Al Jazeera show Fault Lines that produced the investigative report titled The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.