Journalists slain while covering mosque blast
Al-Arabiya figure, two others killed
Atwar Bahjat, a leading reporter for the Al-Arabiya channel, was among those slain while covering the Iraqi mosque blast. (Getty Images)
SAMARRA, Iraq -- ''We want the correspondent!" two gunmen shouted as they pulled up in a pickup truck. They fired into the air, and then killed an Al-Arabiya newswoman and two colleagues.
Al-Arabiya's Atwar Bahjat, whose face is widely recognizable in Iraq and throughout the Arab world, was interviewing Iraqis outside Samarra after the bombing Wednesday of a revered Shi'ite shrine.
The station lost contact that night with Bajhat and her two colleagues from the local Wassan media company, Adnan Khairullah, an engineer, and Khalid Mahmoud, a cameraman.
All three journalists were Iraqi Sunnis, who have been targets of Shi'ite violence since the destruction of the mosque.
Their bullet-riddled bodies were found yesterday near a vehicle, cameras, and a satellite dish they were using on the outskirts of Samarra, which is 60 miles north of Baghdad, said a police captain, Laith Muhammad.
A total of 82 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003, including seven this year, according to a Reporters Without Borders count.
Bahjat, 30, who left Al-Jazeera television in December to join Al-Arabiya, was the seventh woman journalist to have been killed in Iraq. Al-Arabiya is considered more conservative and pro-American than Al-Jazeera.
President Jalal Talabani's office called the killing ''a cowardly act" in a statement that praised Bahjat and colleagues who ''never stopped defending the truth."
When a reporter asked Talabani at a news conference to allow journalists to carry weapons, he said: ''Send me an official request and I will approve it and inform concerned agencies to give you the right to carry arms."
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari ordered security authorities to find the killers of the journalists.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists expressed dismay at the deaths.
''We hope that those responsible for these murders and those of other journalists will eventually be brought to justice," said Ann Cooper, the group's executive director.
Reporters Without Borders, which is based in Paris, demanded that the work of journalists be respected and protected, regardless of their nationality or affiliation.
''We will never stop repeating that journalists are neutral and vital observers," the group said. ''They are neither combatants nor targets to be shot down."
The three journalists had been reporting live Wednesday from the edge of Samarra, which was sealed off by security forces after the explosion at the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque. Bahjat's last broadcast was at 6 p.m., Al-Arabiya said.
The team was conducting interviews when the two gunmen pulled up in the pickup truck, shooting in the air and shouting: ''We want the correspondent," according to a cameraman who evaded capture, Al-Arabiya said.
The crowd around the journalists scattered. The gunmen then shot the three and fled, the station reported.
Their bodies were found at the scene, about 6 miles northeast of Samarra, police said.
The station initially reported that the journalists had been kidnapped but later said they had been killed on the spot.