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Shireen Abu Akleh: Dozens of US lawmakers demand FBI probe into killing

More than 50 members of Congress have signed a letter calling for the US to investigate the killing of Abu Akleh, an American citizen
US protesters demand justice for Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a protest commemorating the Nakba anniversary on 15 May 2022 in Washington.
US protesters demand justice for Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a protest commemorating the Nakba anniversary in Washington, on 15 May 2022 (MEE/Umar Farooq)
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Washington

More than 50 US lawmakers have signed a letter demanding the FBI and State Department investigate the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, after Israel's military said it would not investigate the case.

The letter, spearheaded by Democratic Congressmen Andre Carson and Luis Correa, says the US should be directly involved in an investigation of the journalist, who was an American citizen. 

"As Members of Congress, we are deeply concerned by the death of Ms. Abu Akleh. Journalists worldwide must be protected at all costs," said the letter, shared with Middle East Eye on Friday.

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"We request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. We also request the US Department of State determines whether any US laws protecting Ms. Abu Akleh, an American citizen, were violated."

As of Friday, the letter has obtained a total of 57 signatories, according to a tally shared with MEE by Carson's office, ranging from progressive Democrats to more moderate, and even pro-Israel, lawmakers in the party. It was first reported by The Intercept earlier this week.

While Carson and other cosigners including Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Marie Newman, and Betty McCollum have been critical of unconditional support to Israel, others who signed the letter have been staunch supporters of the longtime US ally.

Correa, a California Democrat, has sponsored legislation opposing the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and cosponsored a resolution condemning UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which characterises Israeli settlements as a "flagrant violation of international law".

He has also been endorsed by the Pro-Israel America political action committee (PAC). 

Calls for a US-led investigation

Abu Akleh, a 25-year veteran journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic, was shot dead by Israeli forces last week while covering an Israeli raid into the Palestinian village of Jenin.

Israel had initially said Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible for the death but then backtracked on its statement, saying it was still unclear what transpired.

Eyewitnesses, including MEE correspondent Shatha Hanaysha, said Abu Akleh was targeted by an Israeli sniper.

Her death met with international outrage as well as calls for an independent and transparent investigation into the killing.

Israeli forces faced further condemnation and scrutiny during Abu Akleh's funeral procession, where videos showed them beating attendees and pallbearers.

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US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week: "The Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.

"It is important to us that her legacy be honoured, be protected, with accountability for those who senselessly took her life."

The Israeli army's military police criminal investigation division announced on Thursday that it did not plan to investigate the killing after concluding there was no suspicion of a criminal act.

The State Department did not respond to MEE's request for comment on the Israeli announcement.

Legal and human rights experts told MEE last week that the US has a precedent of launching investigations into the killing of journalists with American citizenship in foreign countries and has the mandate to do so.

The experts also noted that Abu Akleh's family also has several legal avenues it could pursue in US courts to seek justice for the killing.

"As an American, Ms. Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to US citizens living abroad," the letter said.

Abu Akleh is the second American citizen to be killed at the hands of Israeli forces this year. In January, Omar Assad, a 78-year-old Palestinian American, suffered from a heart attack after being detained, blindfolded, and gagged by Israeli forces.

US lawmakers similarly demanded a probe into Assad's death.

Israel receives $3.8bn in US military aid annually, the highest of any country, and also received an extra $1bn this year to "replenish" its Iron Dome missile defence system after the May 2021 war on Gaza.