(photo credit: AP)
A defense lawyer in Saddam Hussein's mass murder trial who was kidnapped has been found dead, his body dumped near a Baghdad mosque, police and a top lawyers' union official said Friday.
Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi was abducted by 10 masked gunmen who burst into his office and dragged him away Thursday evening, a day after he participated in the first session of the trial, acting as the lawyer of one Saddam's seven co-defendants.
His body, with two bullet shots to the head, was found hours later on a sidewalk near Fardous Mosque in the eastern neighborhood of Ur, near the site of his office, said police Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi. His identity was confirmed Friday, al-Mohammedawi said.
Diaa al-Saadi, a senior lawyers syndicate official, said al-Janabi's family confirmed to him al-Janabi was dead. "He was killed. It is confirmed," al-Saadi said.
"This will have grave repercussions. This will hinder lawyers from defending those held for political reasons," al-Saadi warned.
The killing was the first set-back for a tribunal that has been held under tight security.
Heavy protection was provided for prosecutors and judges in the Saddam trial, on the theory that they were likely targets of pro-Saddam insurgents seeking revenge.
Their names have not been revealed and their faces were not shown in the broadcast of Wednesday's opening session - with the exception of the presiding judge and the top prosecutor, whose identities were revealed for the first time just before the trial.
But security measures do not appear to have been extended to the defense lawyers for Saddam and his seven co-defendants. Their identities have been known
Al-Janabi was defending Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former head of Saddam's Revolutionary Court. Saddam and the seven top officials from his Baath regime face a possible death sentence if convicted in their trial on charges of murder and torture in a 1982 massacre of 148 Shiites in the town of Dujail.
Saddam's chief lawyer, Khalil al-Dulaimi, said after the kidnapping that defense lawyers have gotten many threats in past weeks - by e-mail, mobile phone text message and by telephone. He did not specify if they were from Saddam opponents angry at their defending Saddam's regime or from Sunni supporters angry that they were partipating in the trial at all.
"We condemn this killing, which does not serve the interests of the trial or of the political process," said government spokesman Laith Kubba.
"We do not know who was behind this operation. Is it designed to hinder the trial process of is it an case of vendetta? We don't know," he said.
During Wednesday's session, al-Janabi, with silver hair and a dark black moustache, sat with the 12 other defense lawyers in two rows of desks to the right of their clients.
Al-Janabi was in the front row and spoke at least once during the session, but did not stand out in the proceedings as did al-Dulaimi or others who spoke more often or more combatively with the judge.