Mastermind of Hassan killing sprung from jail
The convicted mastermind of the killing of British aid worker Margaret Hassan was sprung from prison, Iraq's deputy justice minister said on Sunday, the first time his escape has been confirmed.
Judicial officials had for more than a month said Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last year, was "missing" and that his re-trial over Hassan's murder had to be postponed.
"This guy, he escaped from prison," Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim told AFP. "People facilitated his escape, he is gone."
Ibrahim added that "all the people who facilitated this were arrested and are going to court," but did not specify how many people were detained, or when Rawi escaped.
Earlier on Sunday, Rawi's re-trial at Baghdad's Central Criminal Court had been adjourned until September 19, with a justice official and a lawyer for Hassan's family saying authorities had not been able to locate the defendant for more than a month.
The lawyer for the victim's family, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the court had sent a letter to the justice ministry to inquire about Rawi's whereabouts.
"Until now, the justice ministry has not sent a reply, so the case was delayed," the lawyer said.
Rawi, from Baghdad's Jamaa district where Hassan was abducted, was jailed having been sentenced to life in prison on June 2 last year, after being found guilty of "participating in the killing and kidnapping of Margaret Hassan, and of attempting to blackmail her family."
Arrested in May 2008, he had pleaded not guilty to her murder, although his defence acknowledged he may have played a part in a blackmail plot.
His lawyers have claimed that an alleged confession put before the court of first instance was extracted under torture, and his retrial had originally been scheduled to begin in April, but has repeatedly been delayed.
Britain voiced concern over Rawi's apparent disappearance in a telephone conversation on July 23 between Foreign Secretary William Hague and his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari.
Hassan's kidnap and murder, one of the most high-profile killings to follow the US-led invasion of 2003, sparked international revulsion and widespread sympathy among Iraqis.
Dublin-born Hassan, whose body has never been found, had lived in Iraq for 30 years when she was taken hostage in October 2004 and shot a month later.
The 59-year-old was head of operations in Iraq for the humanitarian group Care International for around 12 years before she was pulled from her car by men in police uniform as she was being driven to work.
Hassan, who held British, Irish and Iraqi citizenship, was shown in several video messages appealing for her life and calling for British forces to withdraw from Iraq.
Her family had been counting on Rawi to reveal where her body had been disposed of after the appeal proceedings had been exhausted so that they could give her a proper burial.
In June 2006, another man, Mustafa Mohammed Salman al-Juburi, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of aiding and abetting the kidnappers. His sentence was later reduced on appeal.
© 2010 AFP