Journalist killed, another injured amid Iraq clashes

New York, June 16, 2014–At least one journalist was killed and another injured Sunday in an attack in northern Diyala province, the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate and Iraqi news outlets reported. The killing comes amid escalating clashes between the Iraqi government and its allies against an insurgency spearheaded by the Al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS).

Al-Ahad TV channel reported today that cameraman Khalid Ali was killed and correspondent Moataz Jamil was injured as they were reporting on military operations in Diyala province between what it called the “Islamic Resistance” and “terrorists.” Al-Ahad TV is affiliated with the Shia militant group League of the Righteous, according to Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who focuses on Shia Islamist groups.

CNN reported that Iraqi security forces, backed by Shia militias, clashed with suspected ISIS gunmen in Diyala on Sunday.

“As the fighting in Iraq escalates, so too does the danger journalists face in reporting on the conflict,” CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour, said. “We call on all sides to take every effort to protect journalists and allow them to perform their essential work.”

There were conflicting reports on how Ali was killed, with some outlets reporting the journalists were hit by a mortar shell while others reported that gunmen drove up to them and opened fire with automatic weapons.

Al-Ahad TV did not provide details on the attack or an update on the current status of the injured journalist, Jamil. The station did not immediately respond to CPJ’s e-mailed request for more information.

It is not clear who is responsible for the attack or whether the journalists were targeted specifically. Some Twitter accounts claiming to support ISIS rejoiced at the news of the attack, declaring the “lions of the Islamic State” were responsible. But such claims could not be verified.

The escalated fighting and the increased danger for journalists has made it difficult to confirm events on the ground. Last week, many Iraqis and journalists reported that websites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, were being blocked by the Iraqi government in an attempt to prevent ISIS from spreading its message as it made military advances towards Baghdad. Many Twitter accounts claiming to be official mouthpieces for ISIS have also been suspended by Twitter in recent days, according to news reports.

“The shutting down of entire Internet platforms is not a proportionate response to the current security situation in Iraq,” said Geoffrey King, CPJ Internet Advocacy Coordinator. “Such censorship will have a serious and widespread effect on the dissemination of newsworthy information within Iraq, as well as to the wider world.”

ISIS and other Sunni militant groups are believed responsible for the majority of the at least 10 journalists killed last year in Iraq, according to CPJ research. In a particularly deadly attack, at least five staff members of Salaheddin TV were killed in December when ISIS gunmen raided the station and took the staff hostage.