Three Iraqi journalists slain near Samarra

New York, February 23, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns in the strongest terms the murder of three journalists on assignment in Samarra for the Dubai-based satellite news channel Al-Arabiya.

The bodies of correspondent Atwar Bahjat, cameraman Khaled Mahmoud al-Falahi, and engineer Adnan Khairallah were found today near Samarra, a day after the station lost contact with the crew, editors at Al-Arabiya told CPJ. Bahjat, 30, was a well-known on-air figure. In a statement, Al-Arabiya said she recently joined the channel after working as a correspondent for the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

Al-Falahi, 39, and Khairallah, 36, were employees of Wasan Productions who were on assignment for Al-Arabiya. The crew was on the outskirts of the city covering the bombing of the Shiite shrine Askariya, also known as the Golden Mosque. Bahjat’s last broadcast was at 6 p.m. Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.

Al-Arabiya Executive Editor Nabil Khatib said the station lost phone contact with the crew early Wednesday evening as it was filing a subsequent report to Dubai. The station was investigating the account of a fixer for Wasan Productions who said armed men driving a white car had attacked the crew after demanding to know the whereabouts of the correspondent. All three victims were Iraqi.

“We’re utterly shocked and dismayed by this senseless crime,” said Ann Cooper. “These three journalists were targeted and murdered in cold blood because they were doing their jobs.”

Cooper added: “Our thoughts and sympathies go out to their families and colleagues. We hope that those responsible for these murders and those of other journalists will eventually be brought to justice.”

At least 64 journalists and 23 media workers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, making it the deadliest conflict for the media in recent history. At least three other al-Arabiya journalists and five of its support workers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict. The killings continue two recent trends in Iraq: the vast majority of those killed have been Iraqi citizens; and most cases have been targeted assassinations rather than crossfire.