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

BEIRUT — The late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s grandnephew has no ties to Islamic State but was sent back to Iraq as part of a political deal with Lebanese authorities, his lawyer said Sunday.

Bushra al-Khalil told The Associated Press that her client, Abdullah Yasser Sabaawi, was living in Yemen in June 2014 when IS militants massacred hundreds of Iraqi troops in central Iraq. She said Lebanese authorities handed Abdullah over to Iraq on Friday, even though he had been registered as a refugee in Lebanon, and denied any connection to the 2014 massacre.

ISIS captured an estimated 1,700 Iraqi soldiers after taking Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit in 2014. The soldiers tried to flee from nearby Camp Speicher, a former US base just outside the northern city. IS later released graphic images of gunmen shooting dead the men 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 he died of cancer four years later. Abdullah’s father Yasser is in prison in Iraq, al-Khalil said.

Attorney Al-Khalil, who defended Saddam during his trial in Baghdad before he was hanged in December 2006, said Abdullah left Iraq in 2003 at the age of eight after the US-led invasion and moved to Yemen, where he was granted Yemeni citizenship after his death, his family was stripped of Iraqi citizenship. She added that Abdullah left Yemen for the first time in late September 2014, three months after the killings, and moved to Jordan.

She said the young man moved to Lebanon in 2019 and asked for political asylum, hoping to be resettled in the UK to marry an Iraqi woman. Al-Khalil said Abdullah was arrested a few months ago and questioned by authorities, who found no evidence that he was a criminal.

Al-Khalil said she gave the Lebanese authorities all the documents proving that Abdullah only left Yemen in September 2014, where he was a student at the time.

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

Al-Khalil said she studied Abdullah’s case and found what was used as evidence against him were claims by two people who said they had seen him in videos released by IS fighters who had participated in the murders.

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

New Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani issued a statement on Saturday praising Iraqi police for repatriating Abdullah and bringing him before Iraqi justice to receive his just sentence. It added that Abdullah “has been charged with his involvement in the 2014 killing of our innocent martyrs from the Speicher base.”

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

Asked if she fears he could be executed in Iraq, al-Khalil said “of course.”

After retaking Tikrit in 2015, Iraqi forces arrested scores of men allegedly linked to the massacre. Since then, dozens of men have been sentenced to death and executed.