New York, March 11, 2014–A suicide bombing targeting a police checkpoint in Iraq’s Babil province on Sunday killed dozens of Iraqis, including two journalists, according to news reports. Muthanna Abdel Hussein and Khaled Abdel Thamer were cameramen for the state-run Al-Iraqiya TV station.
The blast destroyed dozens of cars waiting to pass through the checkpoint, trapping some victims in their burning vehicles. It is unclear if the journalists were driving a vehicle or how near they were to the checkpoint at the time of the explosion. There were conflicting reports on the number of casualties, but a Reuters report citing police and medical sources said that as many as 45 people were killed and 157 injured. Abdel Hussein’s mother told Reuters that she identified her son by his socks and shoes.
The Iraq Journalists Syndicate reported that Abdel Hussein and Abdel Thamer were covering preparations for next month’s parliamentary elections. The elections will be the first since American forces left the country in 2011 and will be held despite a significant spike in violence across the country.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi officials said they believed Al-Qaeda was responsible. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered the formation of a committee to investigate the explosion, according to news reports.
“The deaths of journalists Muthanna Abdel Hussein and Khaled Abdel Thamer are the latest tragic reminders that the resurgence of violence in Iraq poses a grave threat to all journalists working there,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), a terrorist group once affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and other Sunni militant groups have launched a devastating wave of attacks across Iraq in recent months, managing to wrest control of parts of Anbar province from the Iraqi government. ISIS has also directly targeted the press, including with an attack on the local Salaheddin TV station that left five staffers dead.
Journalists have also come under threat from Shia groups in recent months. Last month, the independent newspaper Al-Sabah al-Jadeed was bombed after publishing a caricature of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to news reports. The building was damaged, but there were no casualties.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been corrected to reflect that five staffers of Salaheddin TV station were killed in the December 2013 attack and to refer to “Babil province” using CPJ editorial style.