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Three journalists abducted, murdered as sectarian violence rages in Iraq

Three journalists of Al-Arabiya television, including a well-known woman correspondent, were kidnapped and killed while covering sectarian violence in Samarra, police and the Arabic-language channel said. The bodies of Atwar Bahjat, 30, and her cameraman and soundman were found early Thursday near the city 60 miles north of Baghdad, local law enforcement officials said.

MURDERED: Bodies of Al Arabiya journalists wheeled in Samarra, 100 km north of Baghdad, February 23. Gunmen killed a correspondent for Al Arabiya television and two members of her crew in the city of Samarra, the Arabic channel's news editor said. (Reuters/Stringer)

Bahjat had been reporting live Wednesday from the outskirts of Samarra, which security forces had sealed off after an explosion at a Shiite mosque. Officials at the Dubai-based satellite news channel said they lost contact with their team after their last broadcast at 6 pm (1500 GMT) Wednesday.

The other two dead were Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi, 39, and Adnan Khairallah, 36. They were employed by Wasan Media in Iraq and were working for Al-Arabiya at the time.

A fourth team member managed to escape from the ambush and told police about the kidnappings. He said two gunmen pulled up in a pickup truck, shooting in the air and shouting: "We want the correspondent," the Associated Press (AP) quoted Al-Arabiya as reporting.

"Atwar was in the news van and shouted to the crowd to help her. The crew tried to speak to the gunmen, but they snatched them and took them an unknown location. By this time, night had fallen," Reuters quoted Al-Arabiya's Baghdad correspondent Ahmed al-Saleh as telling viewers. Saleh said the bodies had been dumped near the town of Dawr near Samarra. All three were Iraqi citizens. Saleh said Bahjat "is a victim of telling the truth. ... She loved her country and died because of her impartiality."

Atwar Bahjat joined Al Arabiya just two months ago after she received death threats when working for the rival network Aljazeera. The Doha-based network al-Jazeera, which became critical of the Shia leader Al-Sistani after the December elections, had been attracting the threats and anger of extremist groups and Bahjat thought her new appointment at al-Arabyia satellite channel would be safer. She is survived by her mother and sister.

MURDERED: A TV grab off Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite news channel shows its reporter Atwar Bahjat al-Samerai who was killed in Samarra on February 22, transmitting her last report from an open field on the fringes of the central Iraqi city after sunset. (AFP/Al-Arabiya)

In a statement, Al Arabiya said Bahjat was "known for her professional integrity and objectivity. Atwar was also the embodiment of non-sectarian harmony -- her father is a Sunni while her mother is a Shia Muslim." The channel called for authorities to pursue measures to "enhance the safety of journalists active in Iraq" and bring the killers to justice. "Once again, Al-Arabiya News Channel pays the ultimate price for persistently pursuing the truth," it said.

"Until this new tragedy, Al-Arabiya lost a total of eight colleagues in Iraq, five of whom died in a car bomb that targeted Al-Arabiya's bureau in Baghdad, while three lost their lives as a result of US fire. "Also, Jawad Khathem, Al-Arabiya's reporter in Iraq, was the target of an armed kidnap attempt that resulted in him being paralyzed from the waist down."

Date posted: February 23, 2006 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 10