BAGHDAD, Iraq - Journalist Steven Vincent collected facts for his stories from the streets of Basra, not from official statements. But he knew that the streets of Iraq's second-largest city were becoming increasingly unsafe for him.
"This is not the easygoing municipality of 1.5 million people I recall," he wrote in a June 9 article for the National Review Online. "For one thing, I can no longer wander the streets, take a cab, or dine in restaurants for fear of being spotted as a foreigner: Kidnapping, by criminal gangs or terrorists, remains a lucrative business."
Still, Vincent persisted on a personal mission to uncover the dark political underbelly of Basra. He wrote about it, and it may have cost him his life.
The 49-year-old former arts writer was abducted from a downtown Basra street Tuesday night along with Nour al-Khal, an Iraqi woman who was his longtime assistant and translator. Vincent's body was discovered before dawn, hands bound and shot five times; al-Khal is recovering from multiple gunshots in a Basra hospital.
Dozens of foreign journalists have been abducted or killed in Iraq in the two-plus years since the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein. But Vincent's death has particularly disturbing implications; he may not have been killed because he was an American or a journalist. He may have died because he was uncovering corruption and influence-peddling in the city's political, security and religious leadership.
Multiple witnesses attest that Vincent and Khal were taken by men who appeared to be driving police vehicles.
One witness, who refused to give his name, said that he recognized one of the abductors as a Ministry of Interior employee.
"The man also recognized me, after I saluted him," the witness said. "He said to me, 'Do not interfere! It is our duty.'"
A native of San Jose, Calif., and a longtime New York City resident, Vincent, a freelance writer, had spent several months in Basra working on a book about the city.
Vincent and his wife, Lisa Ramaci-Vincent, were urban homesteaders, well regarded in their neighborhood in Manhattan's working-class Alphabet City section, according to longtime neighbor Joe Evans.
Evans, who has lived in the apartment building along with the Vincents for 20 years, recalled that on the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, Vincent climbed to the roof of the apartment building and witnessed the second jet strike the World Trade Center.
"It changed his life," Evans said. "It became instrumental in him going to Iraq and trying to bring his story out. His weapon was a pen."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.