August 29, 2007

Abducted Britons Believed to be Held by "Shiite Zarqawi"

A disturbing look at the death squad leader named as the mastermind behind the May kidnapping of 5 British security contractors (via Times Online UK):

Iraq’s most infamous Shia death squad commander was accused yesterday of masterminding the kidnapping of five British citizens who have not been heard from since their abduction in Baghdad three months ago.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s Foreign Minister, told The Times that a group led by Abu Dera, a legendary figure with strong Iranian connections who is renowned for his brutality, was behind the abduction of the five Britons from the Iraqi Finance Ministry on May 29.

Mr Zebari said there was a striking similiarity between their abduction and that of Iraq’s Deputy Oil Minister by Abu Dera’s supporters on August 14. In both instances well-organised forces broke into heavily protected compounds.

The minister and five colleagues were seized by gunmen dressed in security force uniforms who forced their way into the offices of Iraq’s crude oil marketing agency. The Britons were seized by armed men dressed as Iraqi policemen who broke into the Finance Ministry. “I believe the same group who did this did the Ministry of Finance [raid],” Mr Zebari said in an interview in which he also cautioned of “catastrophic consequences” if Britain and America prematurely withdraw from Iraq.

Abu Dera is thought to command a breakaway faction of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, which is responsible for numerous attacks on Sunni civilians as well as British and American troops. His militia killed thousands of Sunnis in reprisals for the 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Stories of his barbarity are legion. A profile published by the Jamestown Foundation reports that he once commandeered several ambulances, drove them into a Sunni neighbourhood and announced on loudspeakers that Shias were slaughtering Sunnis. The young Sunnis who rushed to help were killed.

He allegedly offers his victims the choice of being executed through suffocation, shooting or being smashed to death with cinder blocks. There is a video recording of a man believed to be Abu Dera kidnapping Saddam Hussein’s lawyer Khamis al-Obeidi, parading him through the streets of Sadr City, and then shooting him three times in the head.

The British government has kept strict secrecy regarding the latest abduction, and has not released the names of the captives. Their families are briefed by the Foreign Office, but have been ordered not to speak publicly about the missing men.

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