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Taysir Alluni: A reporter behind bars

Aljazeera - 25 January 2005

Taysir Alluni could never have suspected that the 9/11 attacks and the US war against Afghanistan in its hunt for al-Qaida and Taliban leaders would dramatically change his life.
Alluni, who began his career as an Arabic translator for a news agency in Granada, Spain, is credited as being the only journalist based in Afghanistan in October 2001 to show the world what the US war machine was doing to one of the world's poorest countries.

By then working for Aljazeera, Alluni was able to capture images of civilian victims in the destitute villages of Afghanistan and the miserable streets of Kabul. His coverage triggered international outrage over the US action in Afghanistan.

Alluni's work in that war-torn country came to an end when US forces bombed Aljazeera's Kabul office just hours before the Northern Alliance entered the Afghan capital. While many say the office was deliberately targeted, Aljazeera keeps an open mind, while still asking for an official investigation.

Alluni left Kabul shortly before his office was bombed, following the Taliban retreat and reporting on it. Much of what he witnessed was too distressing to show and he was himself assaulted. "Scenes that, I'm sorry, I could not describe to anybody," he said.

Beaten and mugged, Alluni has not said who attacked him but described the incident as leaving him "in deep psychological shock".

Back to Qatar

Alluni returned to Doha, Qatar, exhausted and with mixed emotions.

Although professionally satisfied at being able to report the war - reportage that earned him international recognition - the images of suffering were painful to carry.

A respected member of staff, the appreciation he received from his colleagues back in Doha helped Alluni recover from his stint in Afghanistan and surgery he underwent in the Qatari capital.

To war zone once more

Despite his deteriorating health, Alluni headed to Baghdad in the second week of the US war on Iraq in March 2003 on his next assignment.

While reporting there, he once more narrowly escaped a US bombardment. That he survived the US bombing of the Aljazeera Baghdad bureau is little short of a miracle. Aljazeera continues to pursue an official response to this attack - an onslaught that killed his colleague, Aljazeera reporter Tariq Ayub.

Behind bars

When US President George Bush officially declared the Iraq war over, Alluni chose Spain as his destination for a holiday, thinking that his Spanish citizenship would help him avoid harassment and facilitate his movements.

His hopes proved to be unfounded. Syrian-born Alluni, a father of five, was arrested in September 2003 at his home in Granada.

His wife, Fatima al-Zahra, told Aljazeera that her husband was arrested under the pretext of misusing his position as a journalist to carry out an interview with Usama bin Ladin, during which the latter called for jihad (holy war). His colleagues suggest his successes may have counted against him.

Alluni was bailed on medical grounds about a month later. He has a serious heart condition.

However, he was re-arrested in November 2003 for fear he may flee the country while awaiting trial.

He remains behind bars, a situation that has sparked outrage among Arab human rights groups, journalists and colleagues, who describe this controversial prosecution of this very modern Arab icon as nothing more than an attack on the freedom of the press.

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revised 18 November 2005