BAGHDAD – The TV show is one of the country’s most popular, a form of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” in which a television crew surprises needy Iraqis with food and gifts during the holy month of Ramadan.
On Saturday, as Sharqiya TV personnel zeroed in on a family reeling from losses suffered in a massive bombing, kidnappers zeroed in on them. Hours later, three journalists and their driver were found dead, shot in the head and chest and dumped on the outskirts of Mosul, a northern city that has become one of the most violent in Iraq.
By Saturday night, police in Mosul had arrested five suspects. The security chief in the city, which has long been plagued by al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni Arab insurgent groups, said he would have provided guards had he known the crew’s plans.
The abduction, which occurred in the teeming Zanjili neighborhood of western Mosul, was striking for its brazenness and brutality. It happened as Farida Adil, one of the hosts of “Breaking Your Fast Is on Us,” waited inside an apartment with the family that was to be featured in the next episode: a woman with six children, whose husband had died in a January bombing. Adil, speaking later on Sharqiya, said that upon arriving in the area she heard an explosion and gunshots and became nervous. But a colleague assured her Mosul was safe and that the television station was much loved among local people.
As Adil waited inside the family’s modest home to film the introduction, other crew members were making their way from the car, bringing in TV equipment.
“They went through narrow alleyways. The people crowded around them. The criminals were among that crowd,” said Gen. Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq, the Iraqi security forces’ Mosul commander. “The operation of kidnapping was done in a very quick way.”
Adil was about to go outside when someone told her the crew had been abducted. She covered her auburn hair with a scarf, put on a long black abaya and slipped out.
The victims’ bodies were found shortly afterward.
“They were like my brothers,” Adil said, weeping. “I just was with them this morning. I can’t believe that I lost four of them now.”
Sharqiya, an independent station that has been on the air since 2004, identified the dead as Musaab Azzawi, its Mosul bureau chief; cameramen Ahmed Wail and Ehab Maad; and driver Qairdar Mohammed Alban. Regular programming was canceled and replaced by the most recent episode of “Breaking the Fast Is on Us,” with a black stripe showing in the upper left corner of the TV screen in memory of the slain employees.
The reality show airs only during the month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims fast from dawn until sundown. Each night, it features a different family in need of money, food and household goods.
Ali Wajeeh, newsroom director of Sharqiya, said 12 station employees have been killed since 2004 in what he called a campaign to silence journalists, especially Sharqiya’s.
“The show will go on, and it will not stop,” he said. “We will continue and we will not change our course.”