BAGHDAD — Two Iraqi journalists working for ABC News were captured by gunmen and executed in Baghdad, sending shockwaves through a media corps that has lost dozens of lives in the conflict.
Cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf were about 100 yards from the home of one of them Thursday when gunmen in two cars halted their vehicle and whisked them away, said ABC News Vice President Jeffrey Schneider.
Their bodies were found Friday at the Baghdad morgue. ABC said they did not know whether the pair were targeted because they worked for an American company.
"We realize we may never know the answer to that question. It's possible they were targeted or they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We just don't know yet," Schneider said.
The U.S.-led invasion in 2003 opened the door to unparalleled media freedoms in Iraq, but four years later, the country's chaos has claimed the lives of at least 82 Iraqi journalists, including eight others who died this year.
Despite the danger, Aziz and Yousuf were committed to their profession.
"They were incredibly brave. They were incredibly professional and dedicated to journalism, which were careers neither of them ever thought they would have before the war," Schneider said.
"They felt going out day after day and getting those stories to the world ... that in some small way they could help bring peace to their country."
The attack stunned Baghdad's journalists.
One Iraqi reporter for a Western media organization said Aziz's death had convinced him he should leave the country for good.
"I don't want to stay here anymore. Every day we are losing people we know. One day it will reach me, or one of my colleagues," said the reporter, who requested anonymity to avoid trouble with his employer.
Last week, the Interior Ministry banned journalists from going to the sites of bombings and other attacks.
Iraqi journalists are worried about being intimidated by political parties, attacked by armed groups or arrested by the U.S. military, which might suspect them of involvement with insurgent groups.
An independent Iraqi station, Radio Dijla, was burned this month by insurgents but has since gone back on the air. The offices of the state-owned Al Sabah newspaper were bombed last year.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has put the number of journalists killed in Iraq since 2003 at 104, including the 82 Iraqis. In addition, 38 Iraqi media support workers and one Lebanese national have been killed in what the committee calls the deadliest conflict for the media since the watchdog organization was founded in 1981.
"I think what sets Iraq apart from other conflict zones is the scale and ubiquity of the danger. It essentially begins right outside your front door in many parts of the country. There are few safe havens, especially for local reporters. Threats of generalized violence, suicide bombings, kidnappings and murder make this the most dangerous assignment in the world right now," said Joel Campagna, the group's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"I think Iraqi journalists are the unsung heroes of this conflict. Many do their jobs anonymously and at enormous personal risk, and because of that we're able to have a better understanding of this critically important story."