Islamic State militants killed al-Azzawi, a cameraman for the local Sama Salaheddin channel, six weeks after he was kidnapped, according to the station, news reports, and the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate. Al-Azzawi was killed with his brother and two other residents of Samra village, near Tikrit, the reports said. There were conflicting reports on how he was killed. Family members said he was shot, according to Al-Jazeera, but other news reports cited an anonymous security source saying the victims were beheaded.
The journalist was kidnapped by Islamic State militants in early September 2014, the director of the station, Marwan Naji Jabara, told CPJ. There were conflicting reports on the exact date of his kidnapping.
It is not clear why Islamic State militants kidnapped and killed al-Azzawi. Jabara told CPJ that al-Azzawi was accused of helping the Iraqi Air Force target Islamic State positions, an allegation Jabara denied. Islamist militant groups including the Islamic State have previously accused journalists of spying as an excuse or rationale for abducting them, according to CPJ research.
CPJ has documented numerous cases of Iraqi insurgents targeting journalists who have any contact with government officials, including the security forces. Jabara told CPJ that the channel’s support of the Iraqi armed forces leads to constant threats by insurgents, including the Islamic State group. After insurgents took control of Tikrit in June 2014, Sama Salaheddin’s office was raided and its equipment looted, Jabara told CPJ.
Al-Azzawi had also previously worked in the media center for the governor of Salaheddin province, according to news reports, and he may have been targeted for that reason as well. Insurgents have previously targeted individuals working for the government as press officers, according to CPJ research.
It is also possible al-Azzawi was kidnapped after criticizing the group. Jabara told CPJ that some citizens in Samra were upset with Islamic State’s control over their village, especially as it drew bombing from the Iraqi military. According to Jabara, al-Azzawi told his friends that the militants, including one of his relatives who is a senior leader in the group, should leave Samra to stop the bombing.