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Death Sentences for Cult Members
Charges Linked to 2008 Uprising in Nasiriya; Heavy Security at Courts
02/26/2009 7:39 PM ET
Twenty-eight accused members of a heterodox religious sect have been sentenced to death in southern Iraq after being found guilty of participating in an armed uprising in the city of Nasiriya in January of 2008. Nineteen others, also members of the Ansar al-Imam al-Mahdi organization, were sentenced to life in prison.

The sentences were handed down in Nasriya amid the heaviest security deployment in the history of the city’s courthouse, Aswat al-Iraq writes in Arabic.

Nasiriya, typically described as one of Iraq’s calmer areas, saw an armed attack in the city center by gunmen carrying yellow banners in the al-Salihiya area of the city center in January 2008, the day before the observation of the major Shi'a occasion of Ashoura.

The gunmen shot several police commanders with sniper fire, and battles ensued in which Iraqi police and Army forces were able to put down the uprising the following day, but several police officers were killed and at least 800 people were arrested by Iraqi security forces.

The now-banned Ansar al-Imam al-Mahdi group, led by a shadowy figure nicknamed al-Yamani, who reportedly claims to be the herald of the Shi'a Imam al-Mahdi. The Shi'a leader’s return after his disappearance in the 10th Century is expected according to the teachings of Shi'a Islam, but mainline Shi'a scholars reject the claims of the Ansar al-Imam al-Mahdi to be the appointed harbinger of the Imam’s return.

Nasiriya News Net (NNN) writes in Arabic that investigations over the last year have led to the arrests of some local police officers accused of having links to the armed uprising.

NNN cites a security source who said that that one of the defendants sentenced to life in prison was identified as a cleric from Diyala Province. Six others were found innocent, the source added, including two security officers who faced charges of links to the January 2008 uprising.

Nasiriya security forces made heightened preparations for the most recent Ashoura period last month, but there was no repetition of the 2008 events.

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