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John K. Cooley, Noted Correspondent

John K. Cooley reported extensively on the Middle East and wrote a detailed book on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. He also was a mentor for Peter Jennings, the late newsman who worked with Cooley in Beirut and other locales.
John K. Cooley reported extensively on the Middle East and wrote a detailed book on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. He also was a mentor for Peter Jennings, the late newsman who worked with Cooley in Beirut and other locales. (Christian Science Monitor)
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By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

John K. Cooley, 80, a foreign correspondent who built an illustrious career reporting on North Africa and the Middle East and became a mentor to TV newsman Peter Jennings, died of cancer Aug. 6 at his home in Athens.

Mr. Cooley's coverage for United Press International, the Christian Science Monitor and ABC Radio, among others, spanned the Algerian war of independence, the emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the surge of Islamic movements from Morocco to Iran to Afghanistan.

His reports on international terrorism and the Muslim fundamentalist movements were cited for their "calm wisdom" when he received the 1995 George Polk Award for career achievement in international reporting.

His book "Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism," published in 1999 and updated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was one of the first detailed, serious studies of Osama bin Laden and the roots of al-Qaeda and its mission against the United States.

"Unholy Wars" won wide attention, with Library Journal's Donald Johnson describing the book -- one of seven by Mr. Cooley -- as "provocative" and certain to "provide insight into many events in the Middle East for the general reader."

John Kent Cooley was born Nov. 25, 1927, in New York. He graduated in 1952 from Dartmouth College after earlier service in the Army Signal Corps in Austria.

During his career, he learned to speak French, German, Spanish and Russian and read Arabic, Portuguese and Italian with ease.

After working in Algeria from 1953 to 1964, he based himself in Beirut. Mr. Cooley got to know most of the leaders in a growing Palestinian movement, whose quest for recognition and self- determination and reckless adventures made them major actors in Lebanon's civil war.

In the Christian Science Monitor, he cautioned that a Palestinian people did exist and that the world would have to reckon with the consequences of their alienation and bitterness.

"Of all the people who covered the Middle East, along with perhaps David Hirst from the Guardian, he took the place seriously, worked at it religiously and read everything he could on it," said Jonathan Randal, a former Washington Post foreign correspondent. "He kept on top of things, kept ahead of the curve and the fact that ABC was ahead of the ball was very much John's doing."

He was both radio correspondent and ABC's off-camera adviser and guide to Jennings, who died in 2005, when the latter became Beirut bureau chief in 1972.

Jennings, who traveled with a suitcase full of books, kept Mr. Cooley by his side, for guidance and interpretation of events, when they parachuted back into Middle East crises from their base in London.


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