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CNN executive: Iraq targeted network's journalists

Regime accused reporters of working for CIA, Israel

CNN's chief news executive Eason Jordan
CNN's chief news executive Eason Jordan

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Iraqi intelligence agents planned to attack CNN journalists working in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq in March, three months after Iraq's information minister warned of the "severest possible consequences" if CNN were to send reporters to the region, said CNN's chief news executive, Eason Jordan.

The plot was uncovered by Kurdish police, who arrested two men who identified themselves as Iraqi intelligence agents. CNN has obtained videotaped confessions in which the men said their superiors in Baghdad, Iraq, asked them to blow up a hotel in Erbil where CNN staff were staying.

The men planned to use nearly a ton of explosives in the attack, but they were arrested before they could carry out the plan. In their confessions, the men said they had been told that CIA and Israeli agents were working out of the hotel, using CNN as a cover.

In December, Jordan said, he met with Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf to ask permission for CNN to send journalists into areas of northern Iraq that had been under Kurdish control since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"He bristled, and he said, 'Mr. Jordan, if you send a CNN team there, the severest possible consequences will come to them,'" Jordan said. "And I said, 'What does that mean?' He just snapped back. He said, 'Don't you understand? The severest possible consequences.' It was clear he was talking about assassinating those journalists."

Jordan said al-Sahaf "felt it was a violation of Iraqi sovereignty" for CNN to send journalists into northern Iraq without the approval of the Iraqi government, despite the fact that the Kurds, not the Baghdad regime, controlled the area.

Jordan said al-Sahaf and other Iraqi officials had long believed that CNN journalists worked for the CIA, and a previous information minister had accused Jordan of being a CIA station chief when he was working in Iraq.

"These people believe in their hearts, or at least they did, that CNN was part of the enemy regime," Jordan said.

The network decided to send staff members into the region anyway, Jordan said. When the plot was uncovered by Kurdish authorities in March, they offered to let CNN interview the suspects on camera, but the network declined, fearing for the safety of its staff in Baghdad, he said.

CNN had staff members in Baghdad until about three weeks ago, when they were expelled by Iraqi authorities as the coalition launched airstrikes on the Iraqi capital. After the expulsion, other international media outlets were warned that any of their staff members in Baghdad who helped CNN cover the war would be jailed and charged with spying for the CIA, Jordan said.

However, for unknown reasons, the Iraqi government did not complain when CNN broadcast footage from Arab TV networks, he said.

Jordan: Iraq tortured, killed those who helped CNN

In an article published in Friday's editions of The New York Times, Jordan outlined incidents in which Iraqi officials had intimidated, tortured and killed people who had worked for CNN or helped the network with its coverage in Iraq. Those incidents have never before been revealed because they could have put people in jeopardy, Jordan said.

In the mid-1990s, a Iraqi cameraman working for CNN was abducted, held for weeks and subjected to electroshock torture in a secret police headquarters when he refused to confirm that Jordan was the CIA station chief in Iraq, Jordan said.

Also, a Kuwaiti woman, Asrar Qabandi, who had talked to CNN by telephone during Iraq's occupation of her country in 1990, was captured by Iraqi secret police. On the eve of the U.S.-led campaign, she was killed, her body torn limb from limb and the body parts left on the doorstep of her family's home, Jordan said.

Jordan also said that in 1995, Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, had told him that he planned to assassinate his two brothers-in-law who had defected from Iraq to Jordan. In addition, Uday said, he planned to kill Jordan's King Hussein, who had given them asylum.

Eason Jordan said he told King Hussein of the plot, but the king dismissed it as "a madman's rant." The Jordanian monarch was not harmed, but Uday's brothers-in-law were lured back to Iraq and killed several months later.


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