Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Saturday that Arab news channel Al Jazeera was encouraging Islamic militant groups by broadcasting beheadings of foreign hostages in Iraq.
Al Jazeera, repeatedly accused by Washington of biased reporting over Iraq, has often shown video of hostages pleading at gunpoint for their government to withdraw its troops. But killings, posted on Internet Web Sites by militants, are not broadcast by the company.
“If anyone lived in the Middle East and watched a network like the Al Jazeera day after day after day, even if he was an American, he would start waking up and asking what’s wrong. But America is not wrong. It’s the people who are going on television chopping off people’s heads, that is wrong,” he said.
“And television networks that carry it and promote it and jump on the spark every time there is a terrorist act are promoting the acts,” he told a security conference in Singapore.
Al Jazeera’s offices in Baghdad and in the Afghan capital, Kabul, have been hit by U.S. fire but Washington said the bombings had been accidental and had not targeted the network.
Al Jazeera won over millions of Arab viewers before and during the U.S-led war against Afghanistan, and aired exclusive footage of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
The channel has angered some Arab governments as well as Washington with its coverage of the war in Iraq, Islamic militancy and interviews with Arab dissidents.
Al Jazeera is forbidden to report from Saudi Arabia, and Iraq’s U.S.-backed authorities have closed the network’s office there, accusing it of supporting insurgents.
The station, which has often interviewed Iraqi government and U.S. officials on events in Iraq, denies it is helping the militants’ cause.
More than 150 foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq in the past year. Some have been released but about one third have been killed.