The Sunday Times newspaper apologized for announcing earlier that it had a videotape of the death of our colleague the correspondent Atwar Bahjat which showed that she was not shot as previously thought. The newspaper determined that the videotape was a hoax and that Atwar did indeed die from her gunshot wounds. In fact, the tape recorded the last moments of a Nepalese hostage who was murdered by his captives in Iraq two years ago.
The apology does not lessen the pain or the fact that premeditated murder, regardless of the methods used to carry it out, is a hideous act. The newspaper was wrong to publish a story based on a fake videotape but it was right to mention the violence facing journalists in Iraq and highlight it.
In effect, the fake videotape revealed the existence of a market where lies are sold and where the crimes being perpetrated in Iraq and across the region are not enough; it seeks to prolong the war by spreading fear and fabricating lies. The videotape of Atwar is one such attempt. I have advised other journalists not to believe everything that is repeated on internet sites because most of it is untrue, some more cleverly disguised than others.
In many instances, events are fabricated to correspond to the needs of newspapers and television stations. Most fraudsters want to publicize their lies in the popular media.
Nowadays, the picture is no longer foolproof because technological advances have made forgery easier. Some might wonder about the motives behind fabricating a tape showing the killing of a neutral correspondent and sending it to a reputed newspaper? This is part of a daily deception campaign by violent groups across the Middle East, not just in Iraq. Most of these propaganda organizations are located outside Iraq and are part of a wider network whose aim is to prolong the war. We have come across a number of fake statements and fabricated photographs. We have also seen excerpts from old events repeated as new… bombed out cars or kidnap victims from the past have re-appeared on our screens, to the extent that we can no longer distinguish between old and recent news. Footage from the war in Afghanistan has been merged with that of the invasion of Iraq.
The Sunday Times videotape showed the horrific death of a Nepalese hostage in Iraq. When they were first broadcast, the pictures angered the Nepalese who took to the streets and demonstrated in front of Arab embassies. The incident coincided with glowing reports in some Arab media outlets about the heroism of the Iraqi resistance. The criminal killing of the Nepalese hostage is no less horrific than the murder of our colleague. They both reflect a criminal mind that does not distinguish between civilians and soldiers, or journalists and fighters.