IRAQ: Killer of prominent TV journalist confesses
A member of an extremist Sunni group has confessed to the 2006 rape and murder of prominent Iraqi TV reporter Atwar Bahjat, whose brutal death at the height of the sectarian violence shocked even battle-scarred Iraqis.
The confession was made in a videotape broadcast at a press conference today. Suspect Yasser al-Takhi described how he and three others abducted and killed Bahjat and her two-man crew, Adnan Abdullah and Khaled Mohsen, in the central Iraqi town of Samarra.
His two brothers also confessed to killing Abdullah and Mohsen.
Bahjat, who worked for the Arabiya TV network, had gone to Samarra to report on the aftermath of the bombing of a Shiite shrine that ignited a mass campaign of killings against Sunnis by Shiite militiamen.
Her bravery as a journalist at a time when few reporters dared move around touched hearts across Iraq and her death turned her into a national heroine. Moments before the network lost touch with her, she had reported live from the scene, noticeably wearing a gold pendant depicting a map of Iraq around her neck – a symbol widely adopted at the time by Iraqis lamenting the disintegration of their nation into sectarian strife.
Takhi said that the group drove the news team to a side street where he raped and shot Bahjat. His brothers killed Abdullah and Mohsen.
"We parked beside the main street. I asked the girl to step out and I told her, 'You are pretty and I like you, and I want to have sex with you,'" he said, according to a translation of the video by Agence France Presse. When Bahjat refused, "I put the pistol to her head and I raped her…. Then, I finished, took her and killed her."
Her bullet-ridden body, with injuries to the chest, head and throat, was discovered the following day along with those of her crew.
Maj. Gen. Qassem Atta, spokesman for the Iraqi army in Baghdad, said the three had been arrested recently in the southern neighborhood of Dora, and that they had admitted to being members of the Army of Mohammed, an insurgent group that has been tied to the remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party.
Iraq was the most dangerous country in the world for journalists for the sixth consecutive year in 2008, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Iraqi Journalistic Freedoms Observatory says 247 journalists and media workers have died since the war began.
-- Liz Sly and Saif Hameed in Baghdad
Photo: Atwar Bahjat transmitting her last report shortly before she was kidnapped and killed north of Baghdad on Feb. 23, 2006. This image is a screenshot taken from the Arabiya satellite news channel. Credit: AFP/Getty Images