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Shireen Abu Akleh's niece on her family's meeting with Blinken to push for U.S. probe


Shireen Abu Akleh's family still wants answers. Abu Akleh was a Palestinian American journalist. She was shot and killed while reporting on a military raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinian officials say Abu Akleh was killed intentionally by the Israeli army. Israel denies this. On July 4, the U.S., the State Department, concluded an investigation stating that Israeli forces were likely responsible for the shot that killed Abu Akleh, but they found no reason to believe it was intentional. They called her death the result of, quote, "tragic circumstances." Abu Akleh's family called those findings an affront to justice. And now some of her family members are here in Washington to push the Biden administration for a new investigation. Among those family members, Lina Abu Akleh. She is Shireen's niece, and she joins me now. Lina Abu Akleh, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. And I am so sorry for your loss.

LINA ABU AKLEH: Thank you so much. Thank you.

KELLY: I know you have just come from a meeting with the secretary of state, Antony Blinken. We're actually speaking to you - you're just outside the State Department now. Can you share details of that meeting? What did you ask him for?

ABU AKLEH: Well, we reiterated our demands and our frustrations considering the Fourth of July statement that was released. We expressed our frustration that we felt neglected. We felt abandoned. We felt that this report that was released was not an investigation. It did not hold the perpetrators accountable. On the contrary, it was damaging to the truth and to multiple news outlets and the U.N.'s report that released and that clearly showed evidence. We asked for transparency. We asked to receive all the information regarding the report. How was it conducted? And most importantly, we asked for an independent and a transparent U.S.-led investigation.

KELLY: Let me jump in and follow up on that. I know that the State Department says they carried out an extremely detailed forensic analysis, also ballistic analysis, that they looked at both the Israeli and the Palestinian investigations. And the bullet was too badly damaged, that they just cannot reach a clear conclusion here. When you say what you want now is an independent investigation, by who? Who would you trust at this point?

ABU AKLEH: Well, the U.S. has an obligation and it has a commitment to protect its citizens. And this is what Secretary Blinken stated, that he has a duty to protect every U.S. citizen. And we will hold him to this.

KELLY: And would you trust this if it came from the State Department? Are you calling on them to look harder? Or is there some other body, some other organization that you want to look into this?

ABU AKLEH: Yeah. Well, the FBI - definitely we would...


ABU AKLEH: We would hope that the FBI would carry out a criminal investigation since this is a extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.

KELLY: Can you share what Secretary Blinken said when you made this ask?

ABU AKLEH: Well, he committed to transparency with our family going forward, and we expect that we will be consulted and updated every step of the way.

KELLY: As you know, President Biden was just in the Middle East. He was in Bethlehem this month. He stood beside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Here's part of what he said.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death, and we'll continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world.

KELLY: Lina Abu Akleh, I wonder, as you heard those words, as you hold meetings here in Washington now, what goes through your mind?

ABU AKLEH: I hope that statement is also applied to Palestinian American citizens. Even before then - before Shireen was killed in a few days, President Biden was giving a statement during press day, and he said he's committed to the protection of journalists, especially female journalists since they are a minority in the field. So we hope these values and standards are also applied to Palestinian American citizens. So we are hoping that Shireen will not be an exception and that there is a transparent investigation that amounts to accountability.

KELLY: So it sounds like you are searching for justice for your aunt, of course, but that you see something broader at stake here, whether it's justice and accountability for Palestinian Americans, for journalists in the field and for women journalists in the field.

ABU AKLEH: Of course. Of course. You know, if there is no accountability for this crime, for the killing of Shireen, then this gives the green light for other governments to target journalists, to target civilians. And this does happen. This is still happening. Therefore, there needs to be accountability, and perpetrators need to be held accountable so there is justice and that there is an end to these killings.

KELLY: May I pause for a moment? We're talking about investigations and accountability and meetings, and those are all important. But if I might focus just on the person at the center of all this. Shireen Abu Akleh was known to the world as a journalist. To you, she was family. What do you want people to know about her?

ABU AKLEH: Shireen was full of grace. She was full of patience. And she was an empathetic person. She was compassionate. And she was - most importantly, she was a very fun and cool aunt. She had a sense of humor. Yeah, she had a very unique sense of humor that many people are surprised when I tell them because on TV, she was always serious. She was doing her job, being objective. But behind the cameras, she was a very funny person. I loved hanging out with her and just spending time together. I mean, we were in the states for Christmas, and it's now coming back here and not being able to share my moments with her is very unfortunate. But I would like the world to know that Shireen was an incredible person. She was someone that I learned a lot from, and most importantly, many, many Palestinians, Arab and others have learned from Shireen. She was an inspiration to me and to every other Palestinian, especially women.

KELLY: I hear in your voice that you - how much you loved her but also how proud you were of her.

ABU AKLEH: Of course. Of course. And on April 3, it was her birthday. I remember I sent her - and I told her how proud I am to call her my aunt. And I will always be so proud to call her my aunt because of the impact she's had on people when she was alive and even after her killing.

KELLY: That is Lina Abu Akleh speaking to us from outside the State Department. She is the niece of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while doing her job in May. Lina, thank you.

ABU AKLEH: Thank you. Thank you.

KELLY: And a brief note - State Department spokesman Ned Price this afternoon reaffirmed that the administration expects to see accountability for Abu Akleh's death. And he said, quote, "it's our collective goal to do everything we possibly can to see to it that something like this cannot happen again." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Gabe O'Connor
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Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.