Iraqi journalist found murdered; reporter abducted in Baghdad

New York, April 5, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the murder of an abducted Iraqi journalist who was found dead by Iraqi police in Baghdad.

Radio Free Iraq reporter Khamail Khalaf, who was kidnapped April 3 from Baghdad’s Yarmouk district, was found dead in Baghdad’s Jamia neighborhood today, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and CPJ sources. Police received an anonymous call informing them that there was a body on the street. They came under heavy fire by unidentified assailants when they went to retrieve her body, according to RFE/RL and CPJ sources.

“We offer our condolences to the family of our colleague Khamail Khalaf,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Her senseless murder serves as a reminder of the unprecedented dangers of practicing journalism in Iraq.”

RFE/RL reported that an unidentified caller used Khalaf’s cell phone to contact her family, but no demands for ransom were made. Khalaf received prior threats, according to RFE/RL. It is not clear if the threats were directly work-related.

Khalaf had reported on social and cultural life in Iraq for Radio Free Iraq since 2004, according to a statement by RFE/RL. Radio Free Iraq is the Arabic language service of RFE/RL in Iraq and broadcasts from its headquarters in Prague.

In a separate development, reporter Othman al-Mashhadani, 29, for Saudi Arabia’s daily newspaper Al-Watan, was abducted in western Baghdad’s Al-Shouleh neighborhood on his way home from work Tuesday, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory reported. His abductors called his family hours after his abduction demanding a ransom for his release. Al-Mashhadani’s family hasn’t heard from the abductors since. According to a CPJ source, al-Mashhadani received prior threats for his work as a journalist.

According to CPJ research, at least 48 journalists, including Khamail Khalaf and Othman al-Mashhadani, have been abducted since 2004. Marwan Ghazal and Reem Zaeed, abducted on February 1, 2006, and Bilal Taleb Abdelrahman al-Obeidi, abducted on August 14, 2006, remain missing.

At least 98 journalists, including Khalaf, and 37 media support staffers have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, making Iraq the deadliest conflict for the press in recent history. Insurgents are responsible for the bulk of media deaths. More than 80 percent of all media deaths have been Iraqis working for local and international news outlets. Murder is the leading cause of death.