Baghdad, Iraq Suspected Shiite militiamen, some dressed as police, broke into a television station and gunned down 11 Iraqi executives, producers and other staffers Thursday. It was the deadliest attack against the media in this country, where at least 81 other journalists have been killed in the last three years.
The station, Shaabiya, was new and had not started full broadcasting. So far it had aired only test programming of nationalist songs, including ones against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. That may have led Shiite militiamen to suspect it of a pro-Sunni ideology.
The brazen morning attack underlined the danger for the media in a country where causing offense to one side or another can be a death sentence - either by Sunni insurgents or the Shiite and Sunni death squads behind sectarian violence.
In another attack on Iraqi media, the body of a Kurdish radio reporter was identified at the Baghdad morgue. Azad Mohammed Hussein, 29, was kidnapped Oct. 3 in the capital while on his way to Dar al-Salam radio headquarters. His body was found Tuesday.
At least 51 journalists - mostly Iraqis - have been kidnapped in Iraq, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based journalist watchdog group. The latest was the editor of weekly magazine Nabd al-Shabab, abducted Monday on the way to work.
About two dozen gunmen, some in police uniform, pulled up to the Shaabiya offices at 7 a.m. Thursday in civilian cars, stormed into the building and killed most of those inside, said the station's executive director, Hassan Kamil, who was not there at the time.
Staff members had been working around the clock to get the station ready to begin broadcasting at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in mid-October. As a result, many people were in the office, some still sleeping at the time of the attack.
The gunmen fired about 100 shots, Kamil said. But survivors reported not hearing any shots and no windows were damaged, suggesting the attackers may have used silenced pistols and killed their victims at close range, he said.
Among the dead were the station's chairman of the board, Abdul-Raheem Nasrallah, along with station technicians and two guards, Kamil said. Several employees managed to run away, and there were two wounded survivors - the program director and chief producer - who were in critical condition.
Kamil said he could not speculate on who was behind the attack and said the station had received no threats. He insisted the station had no sectarian bent and pointed out that the staff was a mixture of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Nasrallah, the slain chairman, was a Shiite - a former military officer who was jailed during Saddam Hussein's rule, fled to Norway after his release and then returned after Saddam's fall.
The deaths come amid a wave of violence in Iraq by both insurgents and militias. At least 34 Iraqis were killed in violence across the country Thursday, including the attack on Shaabiya.
The U.S. command announced that one American soldier was killed and two others injured Wednesday in action in northern Iraq. The soldier's death brings the total number of American troops who have died in October in Iraq to 41.