BAGHDAD – U.S. troops detained the news editor of a prominent Shiite-run television station and his son in a raid aimed at disrupting Iranian-backed militia groups, the military said Monday.
Hafidh al-Beshara, the news editor and manager of political programming for Al-Forat TV, and his son were taken into custody after American forces, acting on a tip, stormed their house in Baghdad. Al-Forat is operated by Iraq's largest Shiite political party.
The raid late Friday and early Saturday was targeting the son, but al-Beshara was detained as well after an unauthorized machine gun was found on the premises, a military official familiar with the operation said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
The son, who was not identified in the official military statement announcing the detentions, was accused of being a so-called "special groups" militia operative who provided intelligence that aided attacks by Shiite extremists against U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Special groups is a term used by the military to describe Shiite extremist groups that have broken with anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who last week renewed a six-month cease-fire army to his Mahdi Army militia. The U.S. military believes the groups are backed by predominantly Shiite Iran, although Tehran denies the allegations.
Al-Beshara's son was linked to several senior Shiite militia leaders, according to the military, which added that the machine gun and ammunition were found at the site.
Based on information found in the initial raid of the house, the soldiers then searched the headquarters of Al-Forat in the central Karradah neighborhood in Baghdad but didn't find anything, the military said separately.
Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, said al-Beshara's detention was not in any way related to his work at Al-Forat but that his son was accused of providing intelligence for attacks.
Haider Khazim, a producer for the station, said al-Beshara's son is 19 years old and also worked at the station.
He said the station's guards were put in a room and their weapons were confiscated while the U.S. soldiers searched the complex, which he said had been raided last year.
"Their attitude was rough and provocative," he said, adding that the soldiers refused to give any reason for the arrests. "Al-Beshara is a professional journalist and he has no problems with anybody," he said.
Al-Forat is owned by the biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, or SIIC, which is led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Mahdi Army elements have frequently clashed with the armed wing of SIIC known as the Badr Brigade.