Al Jazeera Too Close to Terror?

ByABC News
September 23, 2003, 5:14 PM

Sept. 24, 2003 — -- For Syrian-born journalist Tayssir Alouni, the biggest story of his life may turn out to be his own indictment.

Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon alleges Alouni, a correspondent with the Arab satellite channel al Jazeera, is a member of an al Qaeda terror cell who helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks on America. But with her husband in a Spanish jail cell, Alouni's wife is proclaiming his innocence.

Alouni, 48, was a high-profile correspondent for al Jazeera who had met with Osama bin Laden and was often the reporter who received al Qaeda tapes and messages from unknown sources.

But now Alouni, who was arrested on Sept. 5 in Granada, Spain, is being held at the Soto Del Real prison outside Madrid.

In a court hearing Wednesday, Alouni denied all relations with al Qaeda. He denied recruiting militants, transporting money, or cooperating with the organization in any way. The judge will make a decision regarding Alouni's request for probational release sometime in the next week.

In Madrid, Alouni's wife, Fatima Zohra Hamed Layesi, told ABCNEWS Tuesday her husband is innocent. "My husband is a good person," she said in Spanish. "He is a journalist, not a member of al Qaeda."

"The judge says that he thinks he has proof enough to say this man is a member of al Qaeda and that we must be clear that this person was using his job as a journalist as a perfect cover to be a member of al Qaeda, to be a courier and probably a recruiter, God knows what else," Gustavo Arestegui, the chairman of the Spanish Parliament's Intelligence Committee, told ABCNEWS.

Last week, five men suspected of being members of a Spanish al Qaeda cell were arrested on the orders of Garzon. Garzon alleges that all five madecontact with Alouni.

Spokespeople for the Qatar-based network say Alouni is an honest journalist. His outraged colleagues now wear "Free Tayssir" buttons on the air and the network is running a video montage of Alouni with prison bars superimposed over his image.