Gunmen Storm Television Station In Iraq, Killing Eleven Employees
By Kirk Semple
and Qais Mizher
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gunmen, some wearing police uniforms, stormed a new satellite television station on Thursday and killed 11 employees, several of whom were asleep after working late for the station’s debut on Saturday, employees and witnesses said.
It was the most deadly attack on the Iraqi media since the 2003 invasion. While other kinds of businesses have been raided by gunmen, and several media offices have been struck by gunfire, car bombs and mortar shells, Thursday’s attack appeared to be the first such invasion of a media office.
The motive for the attack, which came on a day of scattered violence around the country, remained unclear. Several employees said they knew of no threats against the station, Al Shabbiya, or its founder and director, Abdul Rahim Nasralla al-Shameri, who was killed along with five staff members and five guards.
Al-Shameri was the head of the Justice and Democratic Development Party, a small secular political group that sponsored the station, one of more than 20 Iraqi satellite channels that have sprung up after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Most stations are owned by political or religious groups, which use them as platforms.
Al-Shameri’s party received money from the Libyan government, according to two of the station’s staff members. The party fielded candidates last year to run for Parliament, but failed to win any seats.
According to Firas Rikabi, a Shabbiya journalist who was not present during the attack, the station had made several test broadcasts in recent days, mainly playing nationalist music that spoke against terrorism and the presence of foreign forces.
Neighbors who witnessed the raid reported seeing assailants in police uniforms, but government officials denied that their forces were involved, and said they had opened an investigation. Police and military commanders have said that crimes are often committed by people wearing stolen uniforms.
The attack began at about 7 a.m. when five SUVs and a pickup truck with police markings pulled up in front of the station headquarters, a modest, two-story house in a residential district in southeastern Baghdad, witnesses said. The gunmen stormed the house and shot everyone they found, staff members and witnesses reported.
Two employees were seriously wounded and left for dead. They remained in critical condition in a Baghdad hospital late Thursday, Iraqi police and the station’s staff members said. An employee and his two daughters, who were asleep on the rooftop, managed to escape unharmed.
By late Thursday morning, the bodies of the dead had been carried from the building and lay on the forecourt covered in blankets. Several were dressed in sleepwear.
A woman employed by the station walked out of the building, sobbing: “Our time to work as a team is finished. Our television station is finished.” Rikabi said the remaining staff still planned to begin its round-the-clock programming on Saturday, as scheduled.