Reporting under al-Qaida control
I am often asked, “How do you get the video you broadcast or post on the Internet?” On days like today, I find myself asking the same question.
Today one of our freelance Iraqi cameramen - to describe him as brave is a wild understatement – brought in a video and the amazing story of how he filmed it.
Place: The city of Baqouba
Date: Christmas Day
Time: 4 p.m.
Scene: The stringer reports that large parts of the city of Baqouba have “fallen” under the control of al-Qaida-inspired Sunni militants. They attack American troops, Iraqi security forces and force Shiites from their homes. Many parents have stopped sending their children to school. Few state institutions function. The city is paralyzed.
Our cameraman (for his safety, I am not including his name) was driving from Baqouba to our Baghdad bureau. He was in a car with his father and brother. Along the road, they passed several cars and pickups, packed with gunmen, waving AK-47s and black flags. The gunmen were members of Al-Qaida in Iraq, holding a “parade” to show their power, and intimidate the local population and Iraqi security forces. From the back of his car, our cameraman - without telling his brother or father in the front - took out his small DV camera and filmed the gunmen in stealth.
But he didn’t get away with it.
A mile down the road, gunmen stopped the car.
“Get out of the car,” they yelled, guns raised at the window.
“Give me your camera and tape.”
“What are you talking about?” the cameraman’s father asked.
“Give me the camera!” insisted one of the gunmen, wearing in a black ski mask, baggy pants and striped button-down shirt.
Our cameraman handed it over.
But it didn’t end there.
The gunmen then kidnapped the cameraman, his brother and father, blindfolding them, fettering their hands behind their backs, and stuffing each one into the trunk of a car.
“When they took off the blindfold, I though for sure I was going to die,” the cameraman told me.
“I was sitting in front of leaders, all of them wearing masks. One leader asked me, ‘Who are you and where do you work?’
“I told him I am a freelance journalist and that I film and then try to sell the tapes in Baghdad. If I had said I worked with NBC News or any American network I would have been killed on the spot, I think.
“They asked me, ‘Are you a Sunni or a Shiite?’
“I told them I am a Sunni.
“Eventually, they agreed to let me go, and told me I should come with them and film the rest of their parade.
“They took me in one of their cars, and drove me around the areas of Baqouba under their control. There were no police on the streets. They had just killed a policeman. His body was still in the car where they shot him.
“There are no more journalists working in Baqouba,” he told me.
I can understand why.
- Life beyond the violence
Suicide attacks and murders due to sectarian conflict continue around Iraq. See how residents live their lives amid the attacks.