BAGHDAD, Iraq — A judge working on the special tribunal established to try Saddam Hussein and other senior officials in his toppled regime was assassinated Tuesday in Baghdad, but U.S. officials told NBC News that initial reports that the victim was the presiding judge were erroneous.
Judge Barwez Mohammed Mahmoud and his brother were killed Tuesday in northern Baghdad’s Azamyiah district, police 1st Lt. Oday Kayoun told The Associated Press.
Earlier reports that the slain judge was Ra’id Juhi, the 35-year-old chief investigative judge of the special tribunal, were erroneous, officials told NBC News.
Kayoun said Mahmoud’s brother was a lawyer, but it was not known if he also worked for the tribunal. The New York Times reported that the relative killed was Mahmoud’s son, Aryan, who was a lawyer with the tribunal.
Al-Arabiya, the Dubai-based satellite TV news network, also reported that the judge and a relative died in an attack. The network said they lived in the same house in northern Baghdad, near the attack site.
The judges on the tribunal have not even been identified in public because of concerns for safety, but Mahmoud was apparently the first one to die in Iraq’s insurgency. Officials with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi special tribunal couldn’t be reached before dawn Wednesday for comment.
Mahmoud’s role on the tribunal was unclear, but the law establishing it called for up to 20 investigative judges and up to 20 prosecutors. It also said the tribunal would have one or more trial chambers, each with five judges.
The murders came a day after the tribunal announced that five former members of Saddam's regime — including one of his half-brothers — will go on trial for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in retaliation for a failed attempt to kill the former dictator.
Final step in first trials
The announcement marked the first time the special court has issued referrals, similar to indictments, the final step before trials can start.
No date was given. Due to a mandatory waiting period, at least 45 days must pass from Monday’s referral before a trial can begin.
The five include Barzan Ibrahim al-Hassan al-Tikriti, one of Saddam’s half brothers, and former vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan. The three others were senior Baath Party members.
The five are facing charges of crimes against humanity for their alleged involvement in a crackdown in Dujail, 50 miles north of Baghdad, that was organized in retaliation for a failed 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam. At least 50 Iraqis were allegedly executed in the Shiite town.
“This case is one of several cases being investigated,” the tribunal said in a statement. “The detainees of this case are also accused of other crimes still being investigated.”
The referrals were the first of many expected to be issued in coming weeks, including one against Saddam’s notorious cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, sometimes known as “Chemical Ali.” In December, investigative judges summoned al-Majid for closed-door preliminary hearings for his role in poison gas attacks against Iraq’s Kurdish minority.
The three others on trial were identified as Awad Hamad al-Bander Al-S’adun, a former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court, Abdullah Kadam Roweed al-Musheikhi, and his son, Mizher Roweed al-Musheikhi. The latter two were local Baath officials in Dujail.
Held at secret location
Saddam was captured north of Baghdad in December 2003, and others have been in custody for nearly two years.
U.S. military officials transferred 12 of the top defendants to Iraqi custody in June with the handover of sovereignty. They’re being held at an undisclosed location near Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital, the tribunal said in a statement.
Another of Saddam’s half brothers, a most-wanted leader in the Sunni-based insurgency, has been handed over to Iraqi officials by Syria.
The arrest of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, announced over the weekend, ended months of Syrian denials it was harboring fugitives from the ousted Saddam regime. Iraq authorities said Damascus acted in a gesture of goodwill.
Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan was arrested along with 29 other fugitive members of the former dictator’s Baath Party in Hasakah in northeastern Syria, 30 miles from the Iraqi border, officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity. The U.S. military in Iraq had no comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.