Gunmen seized an Italian journalist in central Baghdad on Friday in a hail of gunfire after she had been interviewing people who fled the U.S. assault last year on the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, officials and colleagues said.
Giuliana Sgrena, a journalist for the newspaper Il Manifesto, was seized shortly before 2 p.m. by gunmen who blocked her car near the Baghdad University compound at the Jadriyah bridge, located across the Tigris river from the Green Zone, police said.
The woman had gone to the neighborhood to interview refugees from Fallujah and then went on to Friday prayer services at a nearby mosque, colleague Barbara Schiavulli, an Italian radio journalist, told The Associated Press.
Schiavulli said she received a call from Sgrena's cell phone when the kidnapping was apparently under way.
"I couldn't hear anyone talking ... I heard people shooting" and the sound of people splashing through the puddles left by a heavy overnight rain, Schiavulli said.
"I kept saying, 'Giuliana, Giuliana," and no answer," Schiavulli said.
Repeated calls after to Sgrena's cell phone went unanswered, until a final call, when someone answered without speaking, then hung up, Schiavulli said. The missing woman's cell phone then went dead.
Sgrena's Iraqi translator later told Schiavulli, "Giuliana's been kidnapped." The translator said the kidnappers were waiting for Sgrena in two cars when she came out of the mosque, Schiavulli said.
Sgrena had been in Iraq since Jan. 23 and had telephoned her newspaper about two hours earlier, according to Francesco Paterno, an editor at the paper.
Mohannad Ali, a security guard at the university compound, also said kidnappers appeared to be waiting for Sgrena.
"When she was getting out of the door, a black car blocked her way," Ali said. "There were pistols and they opened fire at the journalist and those with her. We were standing at the university door and we thought it was a car accident."
Ali said security guards opened fire at the kidnappers, who dragged Sgrena into a vehicle and sped away.
An Italian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said about eight kidnappers were involved in the assault.
The Iraqis traveling with her were either let go or escaped in the confusion.
Sgrena had made repeated trips to Iraq, including before the U.S.-led invasion, Schiavulli said. Sgrena had been going out daily — "she was doing her job," Schiavulli said.
Sgrena is at least the second Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq, and at least the ninth Italian citizen seized in Iraq in recent months.
Freelance Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was abducted and killed in August. Italian aid workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta were kidnapped in Baghdad on Sept. 7, then released three weeks later.
French journalist Florence Aubenas, of the daily Liberation, disappeared Jan. 5 after she left her Baghdad hotel. Two French journalists kidnapped in August were released in December.
More than 180 foreigners have been abducted in Iraq over the past year, many of them by insurgents trying to drive U.S. troops and foreigners working on reconstruction out of the country. At least 10 remain in the hands of their captors, more than 30 were killed and the rest were freed or escaped.