His lawyer said, on Sunday, that the nephew of the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has no ties to the Islamic State, but that he was returned to Iraq within the framework of a political agreement with the Lebanese authorities.
Bushra al-Khalil told The Associated Press that her client, Abdullah Yasser al-Sabawi, was living in Yemen in June 2014, when ISIS fighters killed hundreds of Iraqi forces in central Iraq. It said the Lebanese authorities handed Abdullah over to Iraq on Friday despite his registration as a refugee in Lebanon, and denies any connection to the 2014 massacre.
ISIS captured an estimated 1,700 Iraqi soldiers after capturing Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit in 2014. The soldiers were trying to flee nearby Speicher, a former US base just outside the northern city. ISIS later released pictures of gunmen shooting the dead men after forcing them to lie face down in a shallow pit.
Abdullah is the grandson of al-Sabawi Ibrahim, Saddam’s half-brother, who was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court in 2009 and remained in prison until his death of cancer four years later. Al-Khalil said that Yasser, Abdullah’s father, is imprisoned in Iraq.
Attorney Khalil, who defended Saddam during his trial in Baghdad before his execution in December 2006, said Abdullah left Iraq in 2003 at the age of eight after the US-led invasion and moved to Yemen where he obtained Yemeni citizenship after his execution. His family was stripped of Iraqi citizenship. She added that the first time Abdullah left Yemen in late September 2014, three months after the killing, he moved to Jordan.
She said the young man moved to Lebanon in 2019 and requested political asylum in the hope of being resettled in Britain to marry an Iraqi woman. Al-Khalil said that Abdullah was arrested several months ago and interrogated by the authorities, who found no evidence against him as a criminal.
Al-Khalil said that she gave the Lebanese authorities all the documents proving that Abdullah did not leave Yemen until September 2014, as he was a university student at the time.
“The handover came as part of a deal” between Lebanese and Iraqi officials, Khalil explained, adding that since Abdullah is a Yemeni citizen, he is not supposed to be extradited to Iraq.
Al-Khalil said she studied Abdullah’s case and found that what was used as evidence against him were allegations from two people who said they had seen him in videos posted by ISIS fighters while participating in the killings.
“My conscience does not allow me to defend a person who participated in a massacre,” Khalil said, adding that if he was a criminal, I would have refused to defend him.
On Saturday, the new Iraqi Prime Minister, Muhammad Shia Al-Sudani, issued a statement praising the Iraqi police for deporting Abdullah, “and presenting him before the Iraqi judiciary to receive his just punishment.” She added that Abdullah “was convicted of participating in the killing of our innocent martyrs from the Speicher base in 2014.”
Al-Khalil said she last saw Abdullah in late October in a detention center and quoted him as saying, “I am ready to do anything but I do not want to be extradited” to Iraq. She said that the handover took place in light of the political vacuum in the country, with no president elected and a government without full powers to manage Lebanon’s affairs.
Asked if she feared his execution in Iraq, Al-Khalil said, “Of course.”
Iraqi forces arrested dozens of men allegedly linked to the massacre after the recapture of Tikrit in 2015. Scores of men have since been sentenced to death and executed.
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