BAGHDAD - The Iraqi TV crew brought the gifts that had come to be the trademark of their reality show: some basic household appliances and a delicious supper to break the Ramadan fast for a family of little means.
They'd done it many times before. But this episode didn't get made. Gunmen seized four of them from their vehicles, hauled them down the street and executed them.
The show is called Your Iftar on Us, after the Arabic word for the evening feast, and it airs on the privately-owned Sharqiya network. It didn't have much in the way of production values but it had a wide following. People watched it because it made them feel good.
"The people were so happy to see us," said the host, a young woman named Farida Adel. She was speaking Saturday, hours after everything went bad, when Sharqiya broke into its regularly scheduled programming and showed her alone on the screen. "All of them invited us inside their houses. They were so happy that we'd come to Mosul," she said.
Musa'ab Al Azawi, the network's Mosul manager and son of a member of the Iraqi parliament, had picked a family in the Mosul's Zinjili neighborhood, a single mother and her six children. The father had been killed in a massive explosion along with 39 others in January. Their story had the makings of a strong show, he told Adel: they would be helping not just one woman but all "Iraqi women who've lost husbands, brothers and loved ones."
He told her Mosul was safe and the Sharqiya channel was well liked there. "All of you are under our protection," he said. But he may have overlooked the risks that came with the program's success. Adel is famous; her face and western style of dress are recognized; and for almost two days everybody in the neighborhood knew the crew was there. They followed them on the streets, laughing, chatting, and maybe making plans.
A terror group known as the Islamic State of Iraq is still active in the area. There are evil people among the good in Zanjili, said Brig. Gen. Khalid Abdul-Sattar, spokesman for the Iraqi security forces there. "They kill people just for killing."
He said no one from the network told his men that the Sharqiya crew had arrived, or planned to do interviews and shoot footage in the neighborhood.
The crew arrived in Zinjili before noon Saturday, driving in a car and a van through a checkpoint manned by Iraqi security forces, and parked outside the house of the family they were to profile. Soon after, Adel heard gunfire and an explosion.
She went inside the house and talked with the mother while four of her crew remained outside. Two came in. One told Adel to have some rest. "You're going to be on camera and you have to be calm."
They didn't know it, but something horrible was happening outside.
A four-wheel drive carrying as many as seven gunmen drove up. The gunmen got out and forced the four crewmen who were still outside into their own vehicles, according to Abdul-Sattar and Mosul Yasir al Hamdani, of the Society for Defending Press Freedom in Iraq, who quoted witnesses. They drove the men 500 yards down the street, took them out of the vehicles and forced them inside the house where they would die.
Adel, and the other two crew members, identified only as Mustafa and Fadhel, still knew none of this, and started to leave the house. Someone shouted, "Don't go out!" The four crewmen had been taken,.
Adel hid herself in a wardrobe inside the house, and emerged later in a traditional abaya, a floor-length gown, and hijab, or veil, warn by some conservative women in Iraq.
She pulled herself together and called a colleague, who told her: "You need to get out of Mosul now."
She got out, along with crew members Mustafa and Fadhel. The rest didn't. Their names are Musa'ab Mahmoud Al-Azawi - the network's manager in Mosul, -- Ehab Maad, Ahmed Salim, Qaidar Sleiman.
Their bodies were found in the deserted house, each shot in the chest or head or both.
On Sunday, Abdul-Sattar said five suspects were in custody. Two of them were found in possession of a pistol; it was not clear if it had been recently fired, and forensics tests will take three days, he said.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, the United States Embassy and the Islamic Party of Iraq issued statements condemning the killings.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008