Iraq’s interior minister called on Thursday for the death penalty for a group of 39 al-Qaeda-linked suspects even before they have been put on trial for allegedly plotting to bomb targets in Baghdad.
Showing off the handcuffed suspects at a Baghdad press conference, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told reporters he is confident the men will be found guilty, citing their alleged confessions, documents and video found at their homes that he said showed their earlier attacks and plans to carry out new ones.
He did not say when the men were arrested, but described them as operatives of the Islamic State of Iraq, an al-Qaeda wing, who were based in Iraq’s western Anbar province.
“Today, we will send those criminals and the investigation results to the courts that will sentence them to death,” Mr. al-Bolani told reporters. “Our demand is not to delay the carrying out of the executions against these criminals so that to deter terrorist and criminal elements.”
The prisoners, who were wearing orange jumpsuits, were silent throughout the news conference.
Mr. Al-Bolani, who is struggling to keep his job as Iraq’s leaders vie for top ministry posts in the new government, said sentencing the men to death quickly would ensure they are not released by security forces.
He said swift execution, as many Iraqis demand for terrorists, would also serve as a deterrent to insurgents. Mr. Al-Bolani wore a black-and-white tribal headdress at Thursday’s announcement, a nod to several Anbar sheiks who were in the audience.
Authorities said one of the suspects was tasked with recruiting foreign fighters to launch attacks in Iraq, such as the October 31 siege on a Catholic church in Baghdad that left 68 dead and is believed to have been carried out by men with north African accents.
Iraq had earlier announced the arrests of 14 suspected in the bloody church siege. Officials said those detainees were related to Thursday’s 39 suspects only through shared support al-Qaeda.
Mr. Al-Bolani said the recruitment was unsuccessful, adding- “Al-Qaeda in Iraq has failed in recruiting non-Iraq or Arab members who used to come from different countries.”
His remarks came as the Defence Ministry spokesman announced the capture of a Moroccan fighter in a raid in the northern city of Mosul. The spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, said two fighters who were killed in the Thursday morning raid were not from Iraq.
Mr. Al-Bolani’s comments appear to belie millions of dollars the U.S. has spent trying to implore the rule of law on Iraq, in part by making sure detainees get a fair trial.
Abdul-Rahman Najim al-Mashhadani, head of the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization that has been helping reform Iraq’s judicial system, scoffed at Mr. al-Bolani’s comments and predicted at some of the suspects would be found not guilty.
“Verdicts should be issued by courts, not by ministers who should be confined to the powers given to them only, especially if they are in the outgoing government,” Mr. al-Mashhadani said.