The U.S. government labeled Al Jazeera journalist Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan a member of al Qaeda and put him on a watch list of suspected terrorists, new reporting by the Intercept has revealed.
Zaidan, a Syrian national who serves as Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, was put on a watch list by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2012, according to agency documents leaked in 2013 by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Among those documents are a PowerPoint slide from an NSA presentation which shows Zaidan's face, name, terror watch list identification number, and a label that states he is a "member of Al-Qa'ida" and the Muslim Brotherhood. It also says he "works for Al Jazeera."
As a journalist, Zaidan spent years reporting on the Taliban and al Qaeda, conducting several interviews with senior leaders in those groups, including Osama bin Laden.
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"To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism," Zaidan told the Intercept.
"For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information. Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know."