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Three men arrested for 2006 murders of Al Arabiya reporter and crew

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders welcomes the 4 August 2009 announcement of the arrest of three militants who have confessed to the 2006 murders of Atwar Bahjat, a reporter and presenter for the Dubai-based satellite TV station Al-Arabiya, her cameraman, Khaled Mahmoud Al-Falahi, and her soundman, Adnan Khairallah.

Bahjat and her crew were kidnapped and killed on 22 February 2006 after traveling from Baghdad to the northern city of Samarra to cover the bombing of a leading Shiite shrine.

"We hail the considerable investigative work carried out by the Iraqi authorities since 2006," Reporters Without Borders said. "These arrests represent a step forward but more light needs to be shone on this case, in particular, the role played by the three presumed killers and the identity of those who ordered the murders."

The press freedom organisation added: "We hope that a fair trial will now be held under Iraqi law. The reopening of the case serves as a reminder of the extremely dangerous situation in which journalists work in Iraq. Protecting them should be a priority, regardless of their nationality or religion or the news media they work for."

The defence ministry announced at news conference in Baghdad that brothers Yasser, Mahmoud and Ghazwan Al-Takhi had been arrested for the murder of Bahjat and her crew. Journalists were shown a video of them describing in detail how they abducted and then killed the three journalists on the night of 22 February 2006. They did not explain their motives.

Iraqi army spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta described the detailed work carried about by the intelligence services and the circumstances that led to the arrest of one of the three men in Dora, a city near Baghdad. He said they had also admitted to being members of the Jaish Mohammed group, which blew up the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, killing the head of the UN mission, Sergio De Mello.

Al-Arabiya spokesman Nasser Al-Sirami told Reporters Without Borders the station was "satisfied with the work carried out by the Iraqi authorities, who continued the investigation although the murders gave rise to an initial trial."

After doing two live reports from Samarra on 22 February 2006, Bahjat had been about to leave the city in the afternoon and return to Baghdad when she and her two crew members were kidnapped for still unknown motives. A fourth person who was with them managed to escape. Their bodies were found the next morning a few miles outside Samarra. On 11 October 2006, an Iraqi court sentenced a man to death for their murder.

On 30 April 2007, Al-Arabiya created an Atwar Bahjat Prize to be awarded annually to a woman journalist for her reporting from war zones. A total of eight Al-Arabiya journalists and technicians have been killed in Iraq since the start of the US-led invasion in March 2003, making it the foreign news media with the most fatalities there.

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