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Associated Press journalist kidnapped near Baqouba; another kidnapped and released near Baghdad

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced deep concern about the fate of Talal Mohammed, an Iraqi news reporter and photographer employed by the Associated Press, after the US news agency revealed on 7 August 2007 that he was kidnapped on 28 July near Baqouba, 55 km northeast of Baghdad.

"Iraqi journalists are often the target of insurgents operating throughout the country in a climate of generalised impunity," the press freedom organisation said. "We call on the Iraqi authorities and the US military to do everything possible to quickly obtain Mohammed's release. He joins the long list of journalists in Iraq who have been the victims of abduction, an increasingly common practice. Neither foreign nor local journalists are now safe."

Mohammed was travelling with a friend to Baghdad when they were stopped at an illegal checkpoint near Baqouba in an area regarded as a stronghold of Sunni rebels who support Al Qaeda. They were taken away by masked gunmen. Mohammed's companion, who was later released, said they were interrogated in a location he could not identify, and that Mohammed was beaten. Mohammed's family has received no news of him since the friend's release.

Aged 40, Mohammed had been working for the AP since autumn 2006. The news agency did not report his kidnapping until 7 August because it had been in contact with the US military authorities in the region in a bid to obtain his release.

Meanwhile, Hassan Shaheed Al-Azzawi, an Iraqi journalist employed by the "Al Sabah" daily newspaper, was released by his kidnappers on 8 August in Kut, 175 km northeast of Baghdad, two days after he was abducted. No information was available about the identity of his kidnappers or where they held him.

An estimated 84 journalists and media assistants have been kidnapped in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003. A total of 42 were released and 25 were killed by their abductors. In all, 198 journalists and media assistants have been killed in Iraq, including five AP employees.

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