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Lawyer: Saddam’s relative has no role in IS killings in Iraq

BEIRUT — The great-nephew of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has no ties to the Islamic State group but was returned to Iraq under a political agreement with the Lebanese authorities, his lawyer said on Sunday.

Bushra al-Khalil told The Associated Press that his client, Abdullah Yasser Sabaawi, was living in Yemen in June 2014 when IS fighters massacred hundreds of Iraqi soldiers in central Iraq. She said Lebanese authorities handed Abdallah over to Iraq on Friday despite the fact that he had been registered as a refugee in Lebanon and denies any connection to the 2014 massacre.

IS captured around 1,700 Iraqi soldiers after taking Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit in 2014. The soldiers were trying to flee from nearby Camp Speicher, a former US base just outside the northern city. IS later released graphic images of gunmen shooting the men dead after forcing them to lie face down in a shallow ditch.

Abdullah is the grandson of Saddam’s half-brother Sabaawi Ibrahim, who was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court in 2009 and remained in prison until his death from cancer four years later. Abdullah’s father, Yasser, is in prison in Iraq, al-Khalil said.

Lawyer Al-Khalil, who defended Saddam at his trial in Baghdad before his hanging in December 2006, said Abdullah left Iraq in 2003 aged eight following the invasion led by the United States and had moved to Yemen where he had obtained Yemeni citizenship after his family was stripped of their Iraqi nationality. She added that the first time Abdullah left Yemen was in late September 2014, three months after the killings, to settle in Jordan.

She said the young man moved to Lebanon in 2019 and applied for political asylum hoping to be resettled in Britain to marry an Iraqi woman. Al-Khalil said Abdullah was arrested months ago and questioned by authorities who found no evidence against him as a criminal.

Al-Khalil said she had handed over to the Lebanese authorities all the documents proving that Abdullah had not left Yemen until September 2014, where he was then a university student.

“The handover was part of an agreement” between Lebanese and Iraqi officials, al-Khalil said, adding that since Abdallah is a Yemeni citizen, he was not supposed to be handed over to Iraq.

Al-Khalil said he investigated Abdullah’s case and discovered that what was used as evidence against him were the claims of two people who said they saw him in videos released by IS militants participating in the killings.

“My conscience would not allow me to defend a person who participated in a massacre,” al-Khalil said, adding that if he had been a criminal, she would have refused to defend him.

Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani issued a statement on Saturday praising Iraqi police for repatriating Abdullah “and bringing him to justice in the Iraqi judiciary for his just punishment.” He added that Abdullah “was indicted for his part in the murder of our innocent martyrs from the Speicher base in 2014”.

Al-Khalil said she last saw Abdullah in late October in a detention center and quoted him as telling her “I’m ready for anything but I don’t want to be handed over” to Iraq. She said the handover took place during the political vacuum in the country, with no elected president and a government without full powers to manage affairs in Lebanon.

When asked if she feared he would be executed in Iraq, al-Khalil replied “of course”.

Iraqi forces arrested dozens of men believed to be linked to the massacre after taking over Tikrit in 2015. Since then, dozens of men have been sentenced to death and executed.