Attack on BBC crew 'not a random shooting'
 
Jason Deans, broadcasting editor
Tuesday June 8, 2004


A senior Saudi journalist who spoke to Frank Gardner shortly before the BBC security correspondent was critically wounded in a shooting on Sunday has said the attack was probably pre-planned.

Khaled Almaeena, the editor in chief of English-language daily newspaper Arab News, spoke to Gardner on Sunday afternoon - but did not know at the time he was planning to visit the Riyadh suburb of Suweidi, a known al-Qaida stronghold.

Freelance BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers died in the shooting on Sunday evening and Gardner remains in a critical but stable condition in a Saudi hospital, following extensive surgery for multiple gunshot wounds.

"He texted me and I did call him back later, but he didn't tell me he was going [to Suweidi]. I wish he had told me - I would have told him not to go," Almaeena said.

"It's not a bad area, but the fact that he was taking a camera in there and going to the home of a known radical who has been killed... I believe it was not a random shooting. I believe there was a spotter who might have called someone.

"That area is middle class, hustle-bustle, conservative. Something went wrong, tragically. Was he followed? Was he lured into that place?" he added.

Almaeena said he was surprised that Gardner, who had many years' experience of reporting on the Middle East, had been caught up in such an incident.

"I know Frank well. He was a real security expert, he knew the nuances. He took precautions," he said.

Gardner sent a message to the Saudi journalist on Sunday about setting up a meeting the following day, according to today's Arab News.

"Frank G here in Riyadh. Will you be here tmoro, Monday morning? We are leaving at 1pm but we would like to meet you before we go," Gardner's text said.

Almaeena said he called Gardner at 4.30pm on Sunday afternoon to say he would come to Riyadh for the meeting the following day from Arab News' offices in another Saudi city, Jeddah.

When Almaeena got to the Saudi capital yesterday morning and heard that foreign journalists had been injured in an incident in the Suweidi district he became concerned and called Gardner's mobile - but there was no answer.

"When I initially learned about an incident in Suweidi, I was a little apprehensive. But when I heard that foreign journalists were injured, I was practically in tears," Almaeena told Arab News.

"Gardner is a good friend of mine and also a friend of Saudi Arabia. I was very eager to see him again," he

 
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