Iraqi court frees accused in killing of six British soldiers

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An Iraqi court on Sunday threw out a case against two men accused of being members of a hundreds-strong mob that killed six British military policemen in 2003, citing insufficient evidence.

Judge Baligh Hamdi of the central criminal court said charges had been dropped against Hamza Hateer, 33, and Mussa Ismael al-Fartusi, 39.

"The court did not see sufficient proof to condemn you and has decided to release you," the judge told the pair after hearing eight witnesses, all of them serving or retired policemen.

The father of one of the killed policemen, 21-year-old Corporal Simon Miller, said he was "devastated" by the news.

John Miller, 59, from northeast England, said: "My son was let down so badly in life, now he has been let down so badly in death. I'm devastated, I just can't believe it."

He added: "I don't understand how this can happen. This is exactly why we wanted to be at the trial, we needed to be there. We were denied that, we were denied everything."

Prosecutor Mohammed Samer too said he was dropping charges, which he said had been based on the testimony of "secret informers" not present in Sunday's session, the first hearing in the case.

"Today there is nothing to confirm their involvement in killing the soldiers," Samer said.

The six military policemen were killed when a mob of about 400 people attacked a police station in Majar Al-Kabir, southern Iraq, on June 24, 2003.

Four Iraqis were also killed and 17 injured in the incident, according to village chief Abu Maryam.

Dima Naaman, spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Baghdad, told AFP that the embassy was aware of the pair's release but declined further comment.

Mohsen Hammadi, the now-retired police chief of the station where the Britons had become trapped while on a mission to restore facilities after a bout of looting, said he had not seen the accused among the crowd.

"When people started to gather around us we tried to run away through a rear window at the station," the former officer recalled.

"But the British soldiers refused, saying they had no orders to withdraw. After the attacks intensified I got out through the window and ran home. When I left they (British soldiers) were still alive. I didn't see the two accused and don't have any information about their participation in the crime," Hammadi testified.

Other witnesses gave similar testimonies, saying villagers were angered because the soldiers had used dogs during searches, which are considered unclean by Muslims.

Sergeant Hameed Obaid Masoud said that the crowd turned on the station after a British patrol began shooting at the mob. Many in the crowd carried guns and had covered their faces, he said.

Many who attended the court hearing were overjoyed at the verdict. "It is not logical to accuse Iraqis of killing soldiers occupying our country," said a court employee who did not want to give his name.

Defence lawyer Hussein Ali said that Fartusi would be freed but Hateer still faced a charge of stealing a British army rifle.

Hateer, a farmer and father of three, was arrested in February 2008. Fartusi, who sells butane gas cylinders for a living and has three wives and 10 children, was picked up in November 2009.

Both were arrested by US forces.

© 2010 AFP

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