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NYT probe: Abu Akleh ‘most likely’ killed by IDF, but no indication she was targeted

Newspaper says acoustic and video evidence points to Israeli military convoy as being only reasonable source for shot that hit Palestinian-US journalist, no gunmen nearby

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 19, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 19, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was “most likely” killed by an Israeli soldier, the New York Times said Monday, as it reported the conclusion of its month-long investigation into the contested death of the Al Jazeera reporter.

But the NYT investigation also said there was no indication of the veteran Al Jazeera correspondent being personally targeted. A Palestinian Authority probe has said that an Israeli soldier deliberately shot Abu Akleh dead, a claim rejected by Israel as blatantly false.

Abu Akleh was shot and killed on May 11 during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen, while she was covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin in the West Bank. The Jenin raid was one of a series of IDF West Bank operations in response to a wave of terror attacks against Israel that killed 19 people in the weeks before.

As IDF troops moved to arrest terror suspects, a fierce gun battle broke out with Palestinian gunmen and Abu Akleh was fatally hit.

The Times said it reconstructed the moments before and after the fatal incident using video gleaned from bystanders, journalists and security cameras. It also interviewed seven witnesses, obtained audio analysis from experts, and its reporters visited the location of Abu Akleh’s death on four occasions. The Times also said it took into consideration the Israeli military’s account of what happened.

In its report, the Times cited evidence that it said indicated that there were no armed Palestinians near Abu Akleh when she was shot.

According to the Times, two minutes passed between the last gunshots from the raging battle and the burst of 13 bullets that killed Abu Akleh, which can be heard in amateur video recorded by Jenin resident Sleem Awad. The sound of the shots were also picked up by Abu Akleh’s cameraman.

The IDF has said that if a soldier had mistakenly shot her, it was the unintended result of trying to hit a Palestinian gunman nearby.

“The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally,” according to the report. “The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.”

The NYT investigation said a total of 16 shots were fired toward a group of journalists, among them Abu Akleh, and that evidence showed the only reasonable source was a nearby Israeli convoy. An initial group of six shots was followed immediately by seven more — one of which the Times said killed Abu Akleh — and then over a minute later another three shots, the Times said, citing eyewitness Sharif al-Azab.

The Times asked two experts, Robert C. Maher, a gunfire acoustics expert at Montana State University in Bozeman, and Steven Beck, a former acoustics consultant for the FBI, to analyze recordings from Awad’s video and that of cameraman Majdi Bannoura.

They assumed the projectile was a 5.66 by 45 millimeter bullet, a kind used by both Israel and the Palestinians.

By comparing the sound delay between the bullets passing the microphones with that of the shots themselves they could determine the distance to the weapon that fired the rounds.

Maher found the shots were fired from at least 181 yards (meters) away from where the video was taken, and up to 211 yards away. Beck concluded the distance was at least 170 to 196 yards.

Surveillance camera footage and bystander videos show that the lead vehicle in the Israeli convoy was just beyond those distances and about 200 yards from Abu Akleh, according to the report.

Though the Times found there were armed Palestinians at the same range, they were not in a position that gave them a direct line of sight to Abu Akleh, with their view blocked by walls.

Another video showed other gunmen who did have a clear view of the journalists, but that they were 330 yards away, it said.

A third video, taken by a Palestinian and that the Times said has been distributed by Israel, showed two Palestinian gunmen in an alley whose corner does give a view of the area where Abu Akleh was, but they were also about 300 yards away.

“Critically, the aural analysis of the gunfire suggested that all 16 bullets were fired from the approximate location of the Israeli vehicle,” the Times reported.

Aside from Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi was also hit in the shoulder, and three bullets hit a carob tree about six feet (2 meters) above the ground.

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an IDF raid in Jenin on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Courtesy)

An investigation carried out by the IDF after the incident concluded that it was impossible to conclusively say who shot Abu Akleh without examining the bullet that hit her, which the PA has so far refused to allow.

Israel, in turn, has said that the Palestinians’ refusal to hand over the bullet and hold a joint investigation “indicates their priorities.”

The IDF has stressed that its investigations up till now have shown Abu Akleh was definitely not targeted deliberately, and has condemned several independent investigations into her death that concluded she was shot by Israeli soldiers, with some claiming she was deliberately targeted. It called such probes “biased.”

The Times noted that reports from The Associated Press, CNN, The Washington Post, and investigative group Bellingcat have all also found that the fatal shot was likely fired by Israeli forces.

On Friday the IDF said it was expanding its own investigation into the killing, and again called on the PA to release the bullet.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh demanded on Sunday that Israel turn over a rifle suspected to have been involved in the killing of Abu Akleh.

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh outside Jerusalem’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital during her funeral, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

In a related development, on Thursday, the US called on Israel to release the findings of an internal police investigation into violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral held in Jerusalem on May 13.

The police launched the probe following an international outcry after the veteran reporter’s coffin was almost dropped when police attacked the pallbearers, beating some with batons, during her funeral.

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