Gunmen storm Iraqi TV station, kill 11

It's the most deadly attack on media in Iraq. The new station hadn't started full broadcasts.

Published October 13, 2006

BAGHDAD - Suspected Shiite militiamen, some dressed as police, broke into a television station and gunned down 11 Iraqi executives, producers and other staffers Thursday - the deadliest attack against the media in this country, where at least 81 other journalists have been killed in the past three years.

The station, Shaabiya, was new and had not started full broadcasting. So far it had aired only test programming of nationalist songs, including ones against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. That may have led Shiite militiamen to suspect it of a pro-Sunni ideology.

The brazen, morning attack underlined the danger for the media in a country where causing offense to one side or another can be a death sentence - either by Sunni insurgents or the Shiite and Sunni death squads behind sectarian violence.

In another attack on Iraqi media, the body of a Kurdish radio reporter was identified at the Baghdad morgue. Azad Mohammed Hussein, 29, was kidnapped in the capital Oct. 3 while on his way to Dar al-Salam radio headquarters. His body was found Tuesday.

At least 51 journalists - mostly Iraqis - have been kidnapped in Iraq, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris journalist watchdog group. The latest was the editor of weekly magazine Nabd al-Shabab, abducted Monday on the way to work.

About two dozen gunmen, some in police uniform, pulled up to the Shaabiya offices at 7 a.m. Thursday in civilian cars, stormed into the building and killed most of those inside, said the station's executive director, Hassan Kamil, who was not there.

Staff members had been working around the clock to get the station ready to begin broadcasting in mid October. As a result, many people were in the office, some still sleeping at the time of the attack.

The gunmen fired some 100 shots, Kamil said. But survivors reported not hearing any shots and no windows were damaged, suggesting the attackers may have used silenced pistols and killed their victims at close range, he said.

After the attack, blood stained the polished floors of the station building, which housed Shaabiya's studio and offices, and pistol bullet casings lay scattered around.

Among the dead were the station's chairman of the board, Abdul-Raheem Nasrallah, along with station technicians and two guards, Kamil said. Several employees managed to run away, and there were two wounded survivors - the program director and chief producer - who were in critical condition.

Kamil said that he could not speculate on who was behind the attack and that the station had received no threats. He insisted the station had no sectarian bent and pointed out that the staff was a mixture of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

But there were signs Shiite militiamen were behind the assault. Many kidnap-slaying of Sunnis have been carried out by gunmen in police uniforms and Sunnis accuse the mainly Shiite police force of helping the death squads.