AN Iraqi businessman told yesterday how ITN reporter Terry Lloyd was shot dead by a US helicopter gunship which blasted his civilian minibus.
Wounded Lloyd, 50, was being driven by Hamid Aglan away from fighting early in the Iraq war when the aircraft burst out of the sky.
In a few, savage seconds the Mitsubishi minibus was hit with a hail of bullets which killed the brave father of two instantly.
Hamid, 58, recalled: “I heard the noise of the bullets coming into my bus, from behind and above. I was terrified and thought we were all going to be killed.
“The journalist would certainly have lived if I’d got him to hospital. He only had a wound in his shoulder and was walking and talking to me.
“But after the helicopter attack, he stopped moving and was covered in blood. He was dead when we reached hospital 10 minutes later. Doctors said he was shot in the head.
“The helicopter pilot killed him. It shouldn’t have happened.”
One of four Iraqi soldiers in the bus also died. Lloyd’s colleagues, cameraman Fred Nerac, 43, and translator Hussein Othman, are believed to have been captured and executed.
Hamid’s startling new evidence topples earlier claims that Lloyd was killed – probably by US Marines – when caught in crossfire with Iraqis in an unavoidable tragedy.
Astonishingly, he says he was ignored when he first told British forces of the apparent bungle days after the end of the war.
Royal Military Police are now treating his damning testimony as “highly credible”.
If identified, the US aircrew could face war crime charges for firing on a clearly marked civilian vehicle which was carrying casualties away from an engagement.
Lloyd was travelling with French cameraman Daniel Demoustier on the third day of the war when their Jeep was shot up in a firefight and careered off the road south of Basra. Colleagues Nerac and Othman were travelling in a second vehicle.
Hamid, who was on a routine business trip in his minibus, found Lloyd sitting on the road’s central reservation amid injured Iraqi soldiers. There was no sign of the other three TV men though Nerac’s Jeep was nearby.
Hamid said at his home in Basra: “It was a scene of total chaos – destroyed army vehicles and dead and wounded men. There was also a civilian jeep with the letters TV marked on its side.
“Some soldiers flagged me down and begged me to take them to hospital. I was loading them into the back of the bus when the journalist asked me to take him too.
“He told me he was Russian – maybe he didn’t want to admit he was British – andd was wearing a bloodied yellow shirt. He was tired from his wound, so I helped him into the minibus and he lay down by the door.
“I turned the bus round in the direction of Basra for the hospital. But after only 100 metres I heard a helicopter behind us. It immediately started to shoot with a machine gun.
“The right back tyre went and the van was difficult to control, but I knew I had to keep on going. It was our only chance. There were bullet holes in the metal floor.
“The helicopter was dark green and about 200 metres behind us. But after another 100 metres, it stopped following.”
Ten minutes later Hamid arrived at Basra Public Hospital. But it was too late. He said: “The journalist looked unconscious so I carried him in where doctors told me to put him on the ground. I was later told he was British and called Terry Lloyd.”
A day later, Hamid returned to the hospital to find out what had happened to the men he had tried to save. It was then he learned Lloyd was dead.
He said: “I was told he would have died instantly. There was nothing anyone could have done for him after he was hit. I was very sorry to hear that.”
Red Caps are now awaiting the results of forensic tests on Hamid’s minibus – whose rear was peppered by at least six bullet holes – at British forces HQ, in Basra Airport.
Swabs were taken from patches of Lloyd’s dried blood. Investigators are also trying to trace the surviving Iraqi soldiers in the back of the Mitsubishi to confirm Lloyd was alive and only slightly hurt when he was helped in.
Hamid has made a taped statement. The interest shown by detectives is in startling contrast to the first time the businessman tried to tell them of the alleged incident.
Then, he claims, though his name and address was taken at the gates of the new British HQ in Basra, he was never contacted for an official statement.
Only a chance conversation three weeks ago between one of Hamid’s friends, who works as a translator for the British, and a member of the investigating team led to him being brought in for an interview.
He said: “The military police seemed amazed by my story. I can’t understand why they’re interested now, but weren’t back in April. I hope what I said will help. I believe the US air crew should be punished. They tried to kill me too, but, praise God, I was saved.”
The Geneva Convention forbids combatants firing on ambulances or unarmed civilians.
US Marines in Baghdad have already admitted to ITN’s private investigators that they opened fire on Lloyd’s two vehicles thinking the newsmen were disguised Iraqi fighters.
Their commander said the Americans saw the “TV” signs on the sides of the ITN Jeeps, but suspected this was a trick as the vehicles were travelling at speed followed by an Iraqi truck full of troops. It is now believed the Iraqi soldiers were trying to flee their own forces.
Nerac, 43, and Othman were captured unharmed by Iraqis and delivered to the local HQ of Saddam Hussein’s fanatical Fedayeen militia. They were then shot in the head for a bounty and their bodies buried in unmarked graves in the desert, a military source said.
The men’s vehicle was found in nearby Az Zubayr. Their press cards were in an abandoned building known to be used by the Fedayeen.
The source said: “They never stood a chance. We’re confident we’ll be able to locate their bodies to return them to their families.”
Demoustier, 38, survived the battle by hiding in a ditch. Until Hamid’s testimony, he was the last person to see Lloyd – father of Chelsey, 21, and Oliver, 11 – alive.
Days after the tragedy Demoustier, who was driving with Lloyd in the passenger seat, recalled: “After we were hit I crouched under the steering wheel, pressing the accelerator to the floor. I looked up just before we crashed, the door was open and Terry was gone.” An inquest into Lloyd’s death was opened soon after his body was flown home in April.
Coroner Nicholas Gardiner provisionally ruled the reporter, of Cuddington, Bucks, was “caught between crossfire and died from injuries”. The inquiry was adjourned.
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon ordered an investigation into Lloyd’s death and Nerac and Othman’s disappearance after pressure from ITN and relatives.
An MoD spokesman in Basra said: “We have examined a vehicle and taken a statement from a local man. We cannot comment further.”
Lloyd’s actor brother Kevin, Tosh Lines in The Bill, died of alcoholism in 1998.