BAGHDAD (AFP) — An Iraqi journalist said on Monday that gunmen went on a killing spree in his Baghdad home, murdering seven children and four adult relatives, but Iraq's interior ministry denied the attack took place.
Dia al-Kawwaz, editor of Internet website Shabeqat Akhbar al-Iraq (Network of Iraqi News), said militiamen sprayed his relatives with bullets after storming into his house on Sunday.
"Four gunmen entered my family house in Shab area. Two of my sisters, their husbands and seven children between five and 10 years old were killed yesterday (Sunday) morning," Kawwaz told AFP on Monday by telephone from Amman.
However, the Iraqi interior ministry's director of operations, Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf, said he had no knowledge of the attack.
"This is a lie. Nothing like this has happened. If such a big crime happens, we always launch an investigation," Khalaf told AFP.
Kawwaz, however, insisted the crime had indeed taken place and on Monday evening held a condolence service in Amman to mourn the deaths.
"I heard the news from my mother. The bodies were buried in Najaf after sunset yesterday and there will also be a condolence meeting in Kut tomorrow," Kawwaz told AFP, refering to two central Shiite cities.
The condolence service in Amman was held at the office of a charitable organisation called Kharil al-Rahman, according to an AFP correspondent who was in attendance.
"This is a condolence meeting to mourn the deaths of Kawwaz's family members. The 11 members were killed by sectarian and criminal gang in Baghdad," a board outside the meeting hall said.
Several Iraqi officials, including Sunni MPs Saleh al-Mutlaq and Hussein al-Falluji, attended the service along with hardline cleric Hareth al-Dari, the head of Iraq's Sunni Muslim Scholars Association who lives in Amman.
The AFP correspondent said several former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party also attended the gathering.
Kawwaz earlier told AFP the crime was committed by Shiite militiamen, who he said killed his relatives "when the family was having breakfast."
"Earlier I was accused of being pro-US and so had to flee to Germany and now I am accused of being a Saddamist," said Kawwaz, a Shiite who has lived abroad for the past 20 years.
According to the report on Kawwaz's news website, which is known for its strong stance against the US military occupation of Iraq, the gunmen bombed the house after killing the family members.
"The gunmen were heavily armed and started shooting randomly. They killed all the family members and later bombed the house," the report said.
"The gunmen came in the vehicle which had no registration plate," the website reported.
Kawwaz said such killings were not new in Iraq.
"What is happening in Iraq is well known. Since the start of the occupation there are groups who are eliminating officers, doctors and now it is journalists," he said.
"If you are working as a journalist in Iraq and if you do not abide by the orders of the occupier or those who came with the occupier, you will face this fate."
The Iraqi Association to Defend Jounalists' Rights condemned the "brutal crime against the family of journalist Dia al-Kawwaz."
"We call on the government to review the crimes and violations being perpetrated against journalists and their families," it said in a statement.
"They should take responsibility to protect journalists who are the main targets of gunmen. By not investigating such crimes, the government is helping the murderers."
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also condemned the killings.
"We are shocked by the assassination of the family members of Kawwaz. We demand an investigation to identify the criminals and bring them to justice," it said.
Journalists are frequently targeted by insurgents in Iraq and few are freed if kidnapped. Mostly their bodies are found dumped a few days after they disappear.
Reporters Without Borders said at least 206 journalists, technicians or assistants have been killed since the US-led invasion of March 2003, 46 of them since the start of this year.
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