US demands accountability in Abu Akleh killing, no criminal probe held

US State Department spokesman Ned Price stopped short of holding Israel directly responsible for the Palestinian-American journalist's death.

 A portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, is displayed during a special mass in her memory in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, May 16, 2022.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)
A portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, is displayed during a special mass in her memory in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, May 16, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

The Biden administration called for accountability in the shooting of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, only a day after it determined she had likely been killed by gunfire from an IDF position in Jenin on May 11.

“We would want to see accountability in any case of wrongful death, especially in the wrongful death of an American citizen, as was Shireen Abu Akleh,” US State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Tuesday. “Our goal and the collective goal of the parties is to see to it that something akin to this, the killing of a journalist in a conflict zone, must not happen again. The IDF as a professional military outfit is in a position, or soon will be in a position, to consider steps to safeguard non-combatants.”

Price stopped short of holding Israel directly responsible, even as he spoke of steps he expected the IDF to take to ensure that civilians were protected in combat zones.

US: The shooting was "not intentional"

Price clarified that the Biden administration believed that the shooting was “not intentional, but rather the result of tragic circumstances.”

A senior diplomatic source said that “we will probably never know how [Abu Akleh] was killed. Israel has a responsibility to ensure journalists can do their jobs. This government believes in freedom of speech.”

 US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/POOL) US State Department spokesman Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/POOL)

The source was displeased with the US conclusion that Israel was likely responsible for her death. “Why say something if it’s uncertain? But in general, the tone was fair.”

The Palestinian Authority had investigated the death and concluded that IDF soldiers deliberately shot the veteran Al Jazeera journalist, but did not supply evidence to back up that conclusion.

An IDF investigation found that it was not possible to determine whether she was killed by IDF soldiers or armed Palestinians, as she was shot during a gun battle between the two sides.

Israel had asked the PA for the bullet, so it could trace its signature markings to IDF rifles from the scene. The Palestinians refused to trust Israel, and instead handed the bullet on Saturday to the US Security Coordinator.

Members of the USSC team tested the bullet but found the physical damage too extensive to scientifically link it to specific weapons.

In Washington on Tuesday, Price said that “the bullet was damaged to the extent that the independent third-party examiners were not able to come to a conclusive judgment regarding the origin of the bullet.”

He clarified that the bullet had been solely in the USSC’s custody from the time it received the bullet on Saturday from the PA until it returned it on Sunday.

Tests on the bullet were conducted by members of the USSC team, which had a combined 42 years of forensics experience between them, Price said.

“These are some of the most experienced ballistic experts in the business,” he said. “Local experts – whether they were Israeli or Palestinian – did not conduct the USSC’s examination of the bullet.”

Different investigations, different results

In addition, he said, the security coordinator had reviewed the IDF and PA investigations over the past few weeks and had also visited the scene of Abu Akleh’s death.

Price clarified that the USSC investigation had not been conducted at the level of a criminal probe, and that in fact, no criminal investigation had taken place.

There were forensic and security experts on the team, but this was not a law enforcement investigation, Price said, rather a summation of investigations.