x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gun silencer found in home of Iraq's vice president, court told

Tariq Al Hashemi, the vice president and one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politicians, is accused of running death squads made up of bodyguards who allegedly carried out bombings and shootings against Shiites.

BAGHDAD // Police and army officers told a court that they found a pistol silencer in the home of Iraq's fugitive vice president as testimony continued yesterday in a trial that has deepened a split in the country's government.

Tariq Al Hashemi, the vice president and one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politicians, is accused of running death squads made up of bodyguards who allegedly carried out bombings and shootings against Shiites. The Baghdad court hearing the case adjourned yesterday after hearing a few hours of testimony.

Mr Al Hashemi denies wrongdoing, and has said that the charges are part of a vendetta by the prime minister, Nouri Al Maliki, a Shiite whom critics accuse of sidelining his Sunni and Kurdish opponents to consolidate power. Some Shiite politicians also are calling for Mr Al Maliki's removal from power.

Mr Al Hashemi is a longtime critic of Mr Al Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for the vice president's arrest on terror charges the day after US troops left Iraq in December.

Shortly after the warrant was issued, Mr Al Hashemi fled to the Kurdish-run region in Iraq's north. He is currently in Turkey and refuses to return for the trial.

Yesterday's witnesses, three police and two army officers, said they raided Mr Al Hashemi's Baghdad home in April after he fled and found a silencer for a pistol. A separate raid in February on the home of his son-in-law and office manager, Ahmed Qahtan, turned up another silencer, they testified.

In earlier testimony, Mr Al Hashemi's former bodyguards had told the court that Mr Qahtan gave to them guns with silencers and told them to assassinate an army brigadier general. Mr Qahtan also faces terror charges.

So far, Mr Al Hashemi's lawyers have not presented their case or called witnesses. However, his defence team was back in court yesterday after walking out in protest in the second court session late last month, citing judicial bias.

The next court session is scheduled for July 8.