Gunmen kill reporter, young son in Basra

New York, February 9, 2005—An Iraqi correspondent for the U.S.-funded television station Al-Hurra and his 3-year-old son were shot dead by unknown gunmen in the city of Basra today, according to Al-Hurra and international press reports.

Abdul-Hussein Khazal, 40, and his son were gunned down outside their home around 8 a.m. Iraq time, Al-Hurra said in a statement. Khazal, who joined Al-Hurra in April 2004, also worked as a correspondent for the U.S.-funded radio station Radio Sawa, the station said.

Details of the shooting and the motive were not immediately clear. Al-Hurra News Director Mouafac Harb told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the station was still investigating the incident and was not immediately aware of any recent threats against Khazal stemming from his work.

Agence France-Press reported that a previously unknown group calling itself The Imam al-Hassan al-Basri Brigades claimed responsibility for the shooting in a statement posted
on an Islamic Web site. AFP said the posting accused Khazal of being a member of the Badr Brigades, a Shiite militia affiliated with Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Associated Press reported that Khazal was a member of the rival Shiite political party, Dawa, worked as an editor for a local newspaper, and served as a press officer for the Basra city council.

In an interview with CPJ, Harb disputed reports of Khazal’s Shiite political affiliations and said the reporter “was killed because he was a journalist.”

“He was a professional journalist and we believe he was killed like the others in Iraq,” he said, referring to the targeted slayings of several Iraqi journalists at the hands of armed groups.

CPJ is continuing to investigate the case to determine whether Khazal was killed for his journalism.

At least 36 journalists and 18 media support workers have been killed in Iraq since the conflict began in March 2003, according to CPJ research. Insurgent groups have frequently targeted journalists and media workers in reprisal for their work with foreign news organizations.

Insurgent actions are the leading cause of journalist deaths in Iraq, with 19 cases attributed to their actions. At least nine journalists have been killed by fire from U.S. forces, the second highest cause of death behind insurgent actions. The remainder died at the hands of Iraqi armed forces during the combat phase of the war, or in crossfire from unclear sources.