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Sunni extremist confesses to murder and rape of Al-Arabiya journalist Atwar Bahjat

Sunni extremist confesses to murder and rape of Al-Arabiya journalist
Al-Arabiya journalist Atwar Bahjat.

A member of extremist Sunni group Jaish Mohammed group has confessed to the 2006 rape and murder of prominent Iraqi TV reporter Atwar Bahjat.

The confession was made in a videotape broadcast at a press conference Tuesday. Suspect Yasser al-Takhi described how he and three others abducted and killed Bahjat and her two-man crew, Adnan Abdullah and Khaled Mohsen, in the central Iraqi town of Samarra. His two brothers also confessed to killing Abdullah and Mohsen.

Bahjat, her cameraman Adnan Abdallah and sound engineer Khaled Mohsen were abducted from the northern town of Samarra on February 22, 2006, where they had been reporting on the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine that plunged Iraq towards the brink of civil war. Their bodies were found a day later, with Bahjat having suffered bullet wounds to the head, neck and chest.

Takhi, 25, told interrogators that he and three others, including his brothers Mahmoud and Ghazwan, kidnapped the news team and drove them to a side street where he raped and shot Bahjat, while his two brothers killed Abdallah and Mohsen with a machine gun.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported: [Link]

"We parked beside the main street, I asked the girl to step out and I told her, 'You are pretty and I like you, and I want to have sex with you," he said in the video, adding that Bahjat refused.

"But I put the pistol to her head, and I raped her. Ghazwan and Mahmoud, they killed the cameraman and the engineer with a BKC (machine gun). And then, I finished, took her and killed her."

Major General Qassim Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi army's Baghdad operations, said the Takhi brothers were arrested in the capital's southern neighbourhood of Dora but did not say when.

Atta told reporters that Yasser al-Takhi admitted being in Jaish Mohammed (Mohammed's Army), whose August 2003 attack on the UN offices killed the head of the UN mission in Baghdad Sergio De Mello and 21 others. Takhi also said the kidnap gang, which included driver Noman Hussein, was directed by a man named Gaith al-Abbassi.

"We welcome the announcement, and appreciate the efforts of Iraqi investigators, and we will closely follow the trial, which we hope will deter those who are attacking journalists," said Nasser Sarami, spokesman for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya.

“We hail the considerable investigative work carried out by the Iraqi authorities since 2006,” Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) said. “These arrests represent a step forward but more light needs to be shone on this case, in particular, the role played by the three presumed killers and the identity of those who ordered the murders.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We hope that a fair trial will now be held under Iraqi law. The reopening of the case serves as a reminder of the extremely dangerous situation in which journalists work in Iraq. Protecting them should be a priority, regardless of their nationality or religion or the news media they work for.”

Al-Arabiya spokesman Nasser Al-Sirami told RSF the station was “satisfied with the work carried out by the Iraqi authorities, who continued the investigation although the murders gave rise to an initial trial.”

After doing two live reports from Samarra on February 22, 2006, Bahjat had been about to leave the city in the afternoon and return to Baghdad when she and her two crew members were abducted for still unknown motives. A fourth person who was with them managed to escape. Their bodies were found the next morning a few miles outside Samarra. On 11 October 2006, an Iraqi court sentenced a man death for their murder.

On April 30, 2007, Al-Arabiya created an Atwar Bahjat Prize to be awarded annually to a woman journalist for her reporting from war zones. A total of eight Al-Arabiya journalists and technicians have been killed in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003, making it the foreign news media with the most fatalities there.

Date posted: August 5, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 441