Tuesday, September 04, 2007


400 sentenced over clashes in Najaf

(Gulf News) - An Iraqi judge sentenced 10 people to death and 390 others to between 15 years and life in jail over clashes near the city of Najaf early this year that killed hundreds, local officials and a lawyer said on Monday. They said the verdicts were handed down on Sunday in the holy Shi'ite city, making it one of the biggest mass sentencing in Iraq since US forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The government said the leader of the group, who claimed to be the Mahdi, a messiah-like figure in Islam, had been killed. They said his "Soldiers of Heaven" had planned to assassinate top Shi'ite clerics and had to be stopped. The group had fought battles with Iraqi and US forces near Najaf in late January. Hundreds of people were killed, mostly members of the so-called "Soldiers of Heaven". Hundreds more from the group were arrested at the time.
A dozen Iraqi security forces were also killed while a US attack helicopter was shot down, killing its two-member crew. Ahmed Duaibil, spokesman for the local government in Najaf, told Reuters the trials took place over three months at the Najaf police academy where the defendants were being held. A criminal judge was sent to the academy and tried the defendants in groups given the large numbers, he said. They were tried on charges related to terrorism, he added.
Witnesses were called, the defendants had lawyers and court officials attended the hearings, Duaibil added.
A court official in Najaf confirmed that 10 people had been sentenced to death and another 390 given jail terms. One of the lawyers, who declined to be identified for security reasons, said he had represented a group who were released for lack of evidence. He also confirmed the number of convictions.

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