November 14, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed that unidentified Iraqi gunmen opened fire on a convoy of Portuguese journalists and abducted one reporter today in southern Iraq.

According to news reports and Portuguese editors who spoke with CPJ, the gunmen—who were armed with Kalashnikov rifles and other small arms—attempted to intercept a three-jeep convoy carrying between six and nine Portuguese journalists. The journalists had been heading north from the Kuwaiti border to the southern Iraqi city of Basra when the attack occurred early this morning.

When one of the jeeps refused to stop, the assailants opened fire, wounding Maria João Ruela, a reporter with the television channel Sociedade Independente de Comunicação (SIC). She was shot in the buttocks, according to SIC foreign editor Martim Cabral, who spoke with the journalist after the incident. Cabral said that the attackers forced Ruela, her cameraman, Rui do O, and Carlos Raleiras, a reporter for the Portuguese radio station TSF, out of their jeep. The assailants then pushed Raleiras back into the jeep and sped away, he said.

Cabral said that Iraqi civilians later picked up the two journalists and took them to Basra, where British medics treated Ruela for her injuries. He said Ruela is in good condition.

The two other jeeps in the convoy eluded the attackers and fled to Basra unharmed.

TSF’s Web site reported that its editors managed to contact the journalist on his cell phone, and that he told them he had been kidnapped but was in good health.

TSF editor Nuno Saraiva told CPJ that station officials have been unable to contact the journalist for several hours and fear that Raleiras’ phone battery has gone dead. Saraiva said that British forces are in contact with the kidnappers, who have demanded a ransom, which some television reports put at US$50,000.

TSF reported that British troops were deployed in the area in an attempt to locate the missing journalist.

“We condemn this vicious assault, and we remain deeply concerned for the welfare of our colleague,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.