- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 25, 2003

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Al Jazeera’s English language Web site, re-launched just three months ago after being brought down by a patriotic American hacker during the war in Iraq, is in turmoil again after dumping its star Western reporter, Yvonne Ridley.

Insiders said the editors of the site (https://english.aljazeera.net) have been inundated by almost 1 million e-mails in the past 11 days protesting the decision, especially from Muslim groups.

These include messages from British members of Parliament George Galloway and Jeremy Corbyn and a number of members of the House of Lords.

“I was told I’d been dismissed a week last Wednesday and security were told they should not let me into the building,” Miss Ridley said in an interview, declining to comment further because the matter is in the hands of her lawyers.

Miss Ridley is reportedly the ninth Western journalist to have left or been forced out of the struggling Web site since it was launched in September. Three Asian journalists have been recruited from a local Qatari paper on two-month contracts to fill the gap, and the site is producing only summaries of wire stories.

Miss Ridley shot to fame in 2001, shortly before the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Afghanistan, after sneaking into that country as a reporter for a British tabloid, The Daily Express, disguised as an Afghan woman riding a donkey.

She was imprisoned for 10 days by Taliban officials after being caught, and her incarceration became front-page news around the world.

In a book on the adventure, Miss Ridley claimed the CIA leaked false documents to the Taliban “proving” she was a Mossad spy. The CIA had hoped, Miss Ridley argued, that the contents would persuade her captors to execute her, producing a powerful symbol of Taliban barbarity on the eve of the bombing campaign.

Miss Ridley contends the Taliban saw through the plot and promptly released her. So she became not a martyr but a convert to Islam — and then, as a journalist with Al Jazeera, a thorn in the West’s side during and immediately after the Iraq campaign.

With a campaigning series of articles attacking the war’s assumed justification, she seemed to be just the kind of journalist that Al Jazeera wanted. She was in obvious sympathy with the Muslim world but a life-long peace campaigner in the West.

But she soon wore out her welcome. After arriving in Doha, the tiny capital of Qatar, she promptly set up the first branch of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the Middle East, after having started a campaign in the Al Jazeera newsroom against what she viewed as exploitative working conditions and nepotism.

There were also, according to journalists at Al Jazeera, a number of very public arguments between Miss Ridley and senior management over the editorial direction of the Web site.

“She was particularly furious that we are constantly having to tame our Web site’s content to pacify U.S. critics,” said one.

“The editors succumbed to U.S. pressure by spiking a story Ridley wrote and published on the Web site about pictures showing U.S. soldiers in Iraq hand-tying Iraqi women and children. The U.S. military warned Ridley not to publish the article, and were furious when she went ahead anyway.”

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