2 Iraqi ABC News journos killed in ambush

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BAGHDAD -- Two Iraqi journalists working for ABC News were ambushed and killed as they drove home from work, the television network said Friday.

Unknown assailants attacked the car carrying cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf, 26, from the network's Baghdad bureau on Thursday, ABC News President David Westin said in a statement on a Web site.

ABC said the two were on their way home from work when they were stopped by two cars full of gunmen and forced to get out of their car. They were unaccounted for overnight and their deaths were confirmed in the morning, it added.

"They are really our eyes and ears in Iraq," ABC Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy said on "Good Morning America." "Many places in Baghdad are just too dangerous for foreigners to go now, so we have Iraqi camera crews who very bravely go out. ... Without them, we are blind, we cannot see what's going on."

Journalists have been frequently targeted by violence in Iraq. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 104 journalists and 39 media support workers have been killed and 48 journalists have been abducted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, making it the deadliest conflict for the media in CPJ's 25-year history. The numbers include those killed in the latest attack.

Of the 104 journalists killed, 82 were Iraqi, as were 38 of the 39 media support staff killed, according to CPJ.

"These two deaths underscore the fact that it is local Iraqi journalists who have suffered the brunt of casualties," Joel Campagna, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, told The Associated Press.

"As Iraq began to deteriorate, we saw this increasing reliance on local staff telling the story of local Iraq that was off-limits to foreign correspondents," he added. "They have become the frontline news gatherers for foreign press."

Reporters Without Borders said 176 journalists and media workers have been killed, including the ABC journalists, and 150 of them were Iraqi. The toll includes drivers, guards and other media assistants.

"We know the situation is difficult for everyone, but journalists are targeted because they give information to local media and foreign media," Hajar Smouni, Reporters Without Borders Middle East and North Africa representative, told AP. "This is not just a bombing. This armed group is waiting for the journalists. They know where they live, they know where they work and they wait for them and they kill them," she added.

"The fact that you work for an American media group makes you more vulnerable and more likely to be targeted," Smouni said. "They just want to eliminate the free and independent voices in Iraq."

Reporters Without Borders said its toll for journalists and media workers killed may be higher than CPJ's because the group has been working with local Iraqi media recently and has added the names of journalists killed in 2003 and 2004 that may not have been accounted for previously. CPJ said a number of cases are still unconfirmed or under investigation.

ABC correspondent Bob Woodruff was severely injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq last year. A car bombing in May 2006 killed a CBS News camera crew -- British cameramen Paul Douglas and British soundman James Brolan, as well as a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi translator. CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier was seriously wounded in the same attack.

ABC said Aziz is survived by his wife, his two daughters and his mother and Yousuf is survived by his fiancee, his mother, brothers and sisters.
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