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Mosul blast kills French and Kurdish journalists, injures others

Smoke billows from the positions of the Islamic State militants after an artillery attack by the Iraqi forces in western Mosul, 19 June 2017
Smoke billows from the positions of the Islamic State militants after an artillery attack by the Iraqi forces in western Mosul, 19 June 2017

REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 19 June 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is deeply saddened to learn that an explosive device killed French journalist Stephan Villeneuve and Iraqi Kurdish journalist Bakhtiar Haddad while they were covering Iraqi counter-terrorist operations in the Ras Al-Jadah district of Mosul, in northern Iraq, yesterday.

Employed by #5bis Productions, Villeneuve was a very experienced video-reporter who had covered wars all over the world. Haddad, who worked for many French media outlets, briefly found a refuge at the "House of Journalists" in Paris in 2008. He returned to France last year for treatment in Lyon to a hand injury caused by a sniper shot while reporting in Fallujah.

RSF shares the concern of the family and friends of Véronique Robert, another French video-reporter who was badly injured by the same explosion. She, Villeneuve and Haddad were all on assignment in Mosul for the France 2 TV channel's current affairs programme Envoyé Spécial.

They were accompanying Iraqi army forces in areas held by Islamic State in the old town, on the west bank of the River Tigris. Samuel Forey, a freelance journalist who was with them, was slightly injured and was evacuated to Baghdad. He has been covering the battle to retake Mosul for various media including Figaro, Télérama and Inrocks.

Immediately after the explosion, all three received initial medical attention from US military medical units based in Al-Qayyara, south of Mosul.

"Iraq is one of the world's deadliest countries for journalists," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "In 2015 and 2016, it was one of the three countries where the most journalists were killed in the course of their work. War is obviously dangerous but every death or injury is a victim too many. No one should have to pay such a high price just for reporting the news."

A total of 28 professional and non-professional journalists have been killed in Iraq since the start of 2014 (including Stephan Villeneuve and Bakhtiar Haddad). According to RSF's tally, three journalists have been killed since the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State began in October 2016. Many journalists have also been wounded in the course of covering the clashes between Islamic State and the Iraqi army and its allies.

Much of the fighting in Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, is taking place in districts with very narrow streets, increasing the dangers for journalists, who are also exposed to Islamic State sniper fire, artillery, improvised explosive devices and mines.

The Islamic State fighters in Mosul are still detaining ten Iraqi journalists and media workers who they have held for nearly two years. Islamic State seized all of the media outlets in Mosul in 2014, turning the city into a news and information black hole until the Iraqi army and its allies launched their offensive on 17 October.

Iraq is ranked 158th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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