2 ABC jour­nal­ists killed in Bagh­dad

Los Angeles Times - - The World - By Ned Parker

bagh­dad — Two Iraqi jour­nal­ists work­ing for ABC News were cap­tured by gun­men and ex­e­cuted in Bagh­dad, send­ing shock­waves through a me­dia corps that has lost dozens of lives in the con­flict.

Cam­era­man Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and sound­man Saif Laith Yousuf were about 100 yards from the home of one of them Thurs­day when gun­men in two cars halted their ve­hi­cle and whisked them away, said ABC News Vice Pres­i­dent Jef­frey Sch­nei­der.

Their bod­ies were found Fri­day at the Bagh­dad morgue. ABC said they did not know whether the pair were tar­geted be­cause they worked for an Amer­i­can com­pany.

“We re­al­ize we may never know the an­swer to that ques­tion. It’s pos­si­ble they were tar­geted or they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We just don’t know yet,” Sch­nei­der said.

The U.S.-led in­va­sion in 2003 opened the door to un­par­al­leled me­dia free­doms in Iraq, but four years later, the coun­try’s chaos has claimed the lives of at least 82 Iraqi jour­nal­ists, in­clud­ing eight oth­ers who died this year.

De­spite the dan­ger, Aziz and Yousuf were com­mit­ted to their pro­fes­sion.

“They were in­cred­i­bly brave. They were in­cred­i­bly pro­fes­sional and ded­i­cated to jour­nal­ism, which were ca­reers nei­ther of them ever thought they would have be­fore the war,” Sch­nei­der said.

“They felt go­ing out day af­ter day and get­ting those sto­ries to the world . . . that in some small way they could help bring peace to their coun­try.”

The at­tack stunned Bagh­dad’s jour­nal­ists.

One Iraqi re­porter for a West­ern me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion said Aziz’s death had con­vinced him he should leave the coun­try for good.

“I don’t want to stay here any­more. Ev­ery day we are los­ing peo­ple we know. One day it will reach me, or one of my col­leagues,” said the re­porter, who re­quested anonymity to avoid trou­ble with his em­ployer.

Last week, the In­te­rior Min­istry banned jour­nal­ists from go­ing to the sites of bomb­ings and other at­tacks.

Iraqi jour­nal­ists are wor­ried about be­ing in­tim­i­dated by po­lit­i­cal par­ties, at­tacked by armed groups or ar­rested by the U.S. mil­i­tary, which might sus­pect them of in­volve­ment with in­sur­gent groups.

An in­de­pen­dent Iraqi sta­tion, Ra­dio Di­jla, was burned this month by in­sur­gents but has since gone back on the air. The of­fices of the state-owned Al Sabah news­pa­per were bombed last year.

The New York-based Com­mit­tee to Pro­tect Jour­nal­ists has put the num­ber of jour­nal­ists killed in Iraq since 2003 at 104, in­clud­ing the 82 Iraqis. In ad­di­tion, 38 Iraqi me­dia sup­port work­ers and one Le­banese na­tional have been killed in what the com­mit­tee calls the dead­li­est con­flict for the me­dia since the watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tion was founded in 1981.

“I think what sets Iraq apart from other con­flict zones is the scale and ubiq­uity of the dan­ger. It es­sen­tially be­gins right out­side your front door in many parts of the coun­try. There are few safe havens, es­pe­cially for lo­cal re­porters. Threats of gen­er­al­ized vi­o­lence, sui­cide bomb­ings, kid­nap­pings and mur­der make this the most dan­ger­ous as­sign­ment in the world right now,” said Joel Cam­pagna, the group’s di­rec­tor for the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

“I think Iraqi jour­nal­ists are the un­sung he­roes of this con­flict. Many do their jobs anony­mously and at enor­mous per­sonal risk, and be­cause of that we’re able to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of this crit­i­cally im­por­tant story.”

ned.parker@la­times.com

Alaa Uldeen Aziz

Saif Laith Yousuf

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