Iraq executes 13 prisoners, gunmen rob government accountants at Baghdad bank

news31.jpgBAGHDAD (AP) — Thirteen men convicted of murder, kidnapping and other crimes were hanged in a Baghdad jail on Tuesday, lining up shortly before their execution in hoods and green jumpsuits, their hands bound behind their backs.

Elsewhere in the Iraqi capital, gunmen in military uniforms robbed government accountants as they left a bank with bags of cash, in the second major bank robbery in Baghdad in eight days.

Assailants in four vehicles drove up to the Zuwiyah Bank in Baghdad’s Karradah neighbourhood and fired automatic weapons in the air, then handcuffed guards and robbed accountants of one billion Iraqi Dinars ($709,000) police said. On December 11, gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms stole $1 million from a bank truck.

The government executed the 13 men after an appeals court and the presidency approved the verdict, said Busho Ibrahim, undersecretary of the justice ministry.

“They included terrorists and other criminals convicted of abduction and murder as well as assassination plots in several provinces,” he said.

Television footage showed the hooded men standing in a row shortly before they were hanged. Several stooped, and one man had his arm around the shoulder of another. Some images showed two men standing together on a gallows with nooses around their necks.

The footage also showed a bearded man without a hood as he listened to an official tell him that his appeal had been rejected and the sentence was death. “OK,” the prisoner said, impassively.

The US military announced the death of a Marine in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province, bringing to 61 the number of American military personnel killed in December.

Some 2,950 US troops have been killed since the US-led 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.

Ayham Samaraie, a former electricity minister who escaped from police custody inside the heavily fortified Green Zone, remained at large. Samaraie, a dual US-Iraqi citizen was being held on corruption charges, walked out of a police station on Sunday with the help of private guards who arrived at the station in sport utility vehicles, officials said.

His escape left “more question marks,” said Ali Shabout, spokesman for Iraq’s Public Integrity Commission, which brought charges against Samaraie.

“Why did the police only inform us after 12 hours?” Samaraie is the only Iraqi official to have been convicted and jailed on corruption charges, although arrest warrants have been issued for about 90 former officials, including 15 ex-Cabinet ministers, according to the anti-corruption commission. His conviction was thrown out on appeal, but he faced a dozen other charges.

The Iraqi Red Crescent said the total number of people seized in a mass kidnapping at the aid group’s Baghdad office on Sunday was 42, and that 26 had been released. The agency’s Baghdad branches remained shut, but offices elsewhere in the country were open.

“The closure of Baghdad offices will continue until all the kidnapped people are released,” Red Crescent spokesman Abdul-Hamid Salim said. The Red Crescent has links to the international Red Cross.

The US military said Tuesday that insurgents detonated a bomb at a medical facility flying a Red Crescent flag in western Iraq, but there were no reports of casualties.

A Red Crescent spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, said the facility did not belong to the agency. Red Crescent flags are often posted outside medical facilities that may not have a direct link with the aid group.

Residents said armed insurgents in black masks had left a bomb at the clinic, and an explosion shortly after their departure destroyed part of the building, the US military said.

Hours after the accountants were robbed in Baghdad, guards at another downtown bank opened fire on a funeral procession, wounding a mourner. Police said the guards thought the coffin was fake, and that criminals were masquerading as mourners as part of an elaborate attempt to rob the bank. Police intervened and found the mourners to be genuine.

In Washington, US government officials confirmed that roughly $900 million in US currency was taken from Iraq’s central bank shortly before the United States began bombing Baghdad in 2003. Treasury department officials said they didn’t know where the money was taken and were still checking out details of the incident, including the denomination of the missing US currency.

The New York Times reported that Saddam Hussein ordered the money be taken from the central bank and sent his son Qusai to grab the cash in the middle of the night.

Police said they found 53 bodies around Baghdad on Tuesday, apparent victims of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites that has swept the capital this year.

Many of the bodies showed signs of torture.

The morgue in the city of Baqouba, north of Baghdad, said it received 15 bodies of people who died in violence, including those of two women and an Iraqi soldier. The morgue in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, received the bodies of seven people.

In other violence Tuesday:

— In southern Baghdad, two civilians were killed and seven wounded by mortar rounds, and a roadside bomb killed two civilians and wounded nine near an electricity plant, police said. In the city’s western Yarmouk district, a bomb narrowly missed a police patrol, wounding four civilians and setting several vehicles ablaze.

— Three children were killed when mortar rounds hit their village near Baqouba, and seven civilians were wounded in a mortar attack nearby, police said. North of the city, five insurgents were killed in clashes with US and Iraqi forces, Iraqi officials said. In Baqouba, insurgents attacked a police patrol, killing two officers.

— An Iraqi army captain was killed outside his home in Diwaniyah, south of the capital, according to police.

— US-led forces killed two insurgents in Fallujah and another in eastern Baghdad, the US military said.

— A suicide bomber blew up near an American convoy in Mosul, wounding two civilians, police said. A Shiite university student was killed in a drive-by shooting in the city.

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