DUBAI, United Arab Emirates The Kabul office of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera, which the United States has criticized for its coverage of the Afghan campaign, was destroyed early Tuesday by a U.S. missile, the channel's managing director said.
The missile's target was unclear. The United States has been targeting Taliban offices, installations and forces in a campaign that began Oct. 7 after the ruling Islamic militia refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
No one was in the office when it was hit before dawn, said managing director Mohammed Jassim al-Ali. He said its 10 staffers were believed to be safe but their whereabouts were unknown.
"All our equipment has been destroyed, but we believe that all our crew are safe," al-Ali told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Qatar, where the channel is headquartered. "We don't know where our crew members are. We are trying to see how we can communicate with them."
The Taliban Ministry for the Suppression of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue was across the street from the Al-Jazeera office. Taliban anti-aircraft positions were located on a hill nearby and the neighborhood, Wazir Akbar Khan, was home to many Taliban officials.
The Taliban, whose hold on Afghanistan eroded under the U.S. bombing campaign, fled Kabul overnight and northern alliance fighters roamed the city Tuesday, seeking Arabs and other foreigners who fought with the Taliban. At least five Pakistanis and two Arabs were killed.
Asked if he thought Al-Jazeera's office was deliberately targeted, al-Ali said, "They know where we are located and they know what we have in our office and we also did not get any warning."
It could be difficult for Arab employees of al-Jazeera, including reporter Tasir Alouni, to move around in Kabul, where they might by mistaken for Arabs who came to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban.
The missile also damaged the offices of The Associated Press and the British Broadcasting Corp. in Kabul. On Tuesday, one side of the house in which Al Jazeera's office was located was caved in, with twisted steel rods jutting out.
Al-Jazeera has aired taped statements said to be made inside Afghanistan by bin Laden and his aides, and Alouni became familiar to Arab viewers around the world, providing live reports from Taliban-controlled areas barred to most Western reporters.
He often described U.S. missiles hitting civilian areas and killing women and children.
American officials have criticized Al-Jazeera's coverage of the bombing campaign as inflammatory propaganda.
But the 24-hour station reaches more than 35 million Arabs, including 150,000 in the United States, and the Bush administration has acknowledged its significance lately.
The station recently interviewed Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
On Tuesday, Al-Jazeera showed CNN footage from Kabul and live coverage Tuesday from its five-member crew in the Taliban's home base, the southern city of Kandahar.
© 2001 The Associated Press