Japanese journalists, translator killed

New York, May 28, 2004—Two Japanese journalists and their Iraqi translator were killed on Thursday night when their car came under attack by gunmen in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Baghdad, according to news reports.

Bangkok-based freelancer Shinsuke Hashida and his nephew Kotaro Ogawa, also a freelancer, had been traveling to Baghdad from the southern city of Samawah, where Japan has deployed hundreds of troops, when the attack occurred. Agence France-Presse (AFP) listed the translator as Mohamed Najmedin.

The Associated Press reported that both men were working for the Japanese tabloid daily Nikkan Gendai covering Japanese troops stationed in the southern city of Samawah. Japanese station NHK reported that the two journalists had also reported for several other Japanese news organizations. The Japanese foreign ministry acknowledged the incident but has not confirmed the identities of those killed.

According to some press reports, the journalists’ car burst into flames after the attack. Reuters news agency reported that the car was hit by rocket propelled grenade (RPG) fire. The driver, an Iraqi, who survived the incident and spoke with Japan’s NHK News said he was able to exit the car before it exploded after the assault.

Thursday’s attack occurred in the same area where two Polish journalists were killed by gunmen on May 7 and two CNN employees were gunned down in January.

Hashida was an experienced journalist who had covered several conflicts as a television reporter, according to Japanese media.

At least 28 journalists (not including Hashida and Ogawa) have been killed in Iraq since the US-led war in Iraq began in March 2003. At least seven other media workers have also been killed.

In other developments, U.S. television broadcaster NBC announced Friday that insurgents in Fallujah released three staffers and an Iraqi freelancer–correspondent Ned Colt, cameraman Maurice Roper, soundman Robert Colville, and journalist Ashraf al-Taie who had been kidnapped by armed insurgents on Tuesday. All four were released unharmed, and NBC said in a statement that local Iraqi leaders had mediated the releases when it was clear that the men were working as journalists.

NBC said it did not previously report the abduction for security reasons.