Iraq court sentences Belgian militant to death for Daesh membership

Tarik Jadaoun, top right, known by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza Al-Beljiki, sits inside a cell at a court in Baghdad. The Belgian militant was sentenced to death for membership of the Daesh group. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2018
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Iraq court sentences Belgian militant to death for Daesh membership

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Tuesday sentenced a Belgian militant, who threatened Europe in propaganda videos, to death by hanging for membership of the Daesh group, an AFP journalist reported.

Tarik Jadaoun — known by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza Al-Beljiki — earlier pleaded not guilty to a range of terror, insisting he had “got lost” and pleading for mercy.

Born in 1988, Jadaoun — who was captured in ex-Daesh bastion Mosul in August — appeared before the Baghdad court dressed in a beige prison uniform with a shaved head and bushy moustache.

The hearing lasted for less than 10 minutes, with a judge sentencing him to be “hanged until death” after Jadaoun refused to defend himself after the charges were read out.

Jadaoun, who has Moroccan roots, said during a first hearing on May 10 that he was forced by “one of the top Daesh commanders” to appear in videos threatening attacks against Belgium and France.

The footage saw Jadaoun earn the moniker “the new Abaaoud,” after his compatriot Abdelhamid Abaaoud, one of the organizers of November 2015 attacks in Paris.

Earlier, investigators alleged Jadaoun was in charge of the “cubs of the caliphate” — about 60 children aged eight to 13 who received intensive fitness and weapons training.

In total, Iraqi courts have sentenced to death more than 300 people, including dozens of foreigners, for belonging to Daesh, judicial sources said last month.

Since January, some 100 foreign nationals have been sentenced to death in Baghdad and around 185 to life in prison, officials said.

Thousands of foreign fighters from across the world flocked to the black banner of the militants as the group seized swathes of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

Their self-declared “caliphate” has since been reduced to a rump territory of desert in the east of war-torn Syria.

The fate of those who survived ferocious onslaughts by various forces against Daesh has been a major headache for their home governments, which are often against seeing them return.


Water pollution in Iraq threatens Mandaean religious rites

Updated 1 min 32 sec ago
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Water pollution in Iraq threatens Mandaean religious rites

  • Until 2003, nearly all the world’s Mandaeans lived in Iraq, but the cycles of conflict since the US invasion have driven minorities out of the country
  • The wars that drove many Mandaeans out of the country also aggravated a water crisis set in motion by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s ecological policies

BAGHDAD: Every Sunday in Iraq, along a strip of embankment on the Tigris River reserved for followers of the obscure and ancient Mandaean faith, worshippers bathe themselves in the waters to purify their souls.
But unlike in ancient times, the storied river that runs through Baghdad is fouled by untreated sewage and dead carp, which float by in the fast-moving current.
“It’s very saddening. Our religious books warn us not to defile the water. There are angels watching over it,” said Sheikh Satar Jabar, head of Iraq’s Mandaean community.
Iraq’s soaring water pollution is threatening the religious rites of its tight-knit Mandaean community, already devastated by 15 years of war that has also affected the country’s other minority sects.
Mandaeism follows the teachings of John the Baptist, a saint in both the Christian and Islamic traditions, and its rites revolve around water.
On the eastern bank of the Tigris recently, Jabar watched as a younger cleric blessed congregants in the river, then anointed them with holy oil and gave them a sacrament of bread and water on dry land.
The women, shrouded in white and their hair tucked under headdresses, went into the river first, receiving their blessings in a Mandaean dialect of Jesus’s native tongue, Aramaic. Then the ceremony was repeated for the men. Finally, a one-year-old child, Yuhana, received his first baptism, squirming and sputtering as his father dipped him in.
“When a Mandaean believer commits a sin or wants to ease the worries of life, he comes to the cleric to practice his religious rituals, where he must immerse himself three times in running water,” said Jabar.
The faith holds that only flowing water can baptize the faithful, and that it should be clear, pure and fit for human consumption.
Until 2003, nearly all the world’s Mandaeans lived in Iraq, but the cycles of conflict since the US invasion have driven minorities out of the country for security reasons and economic opportunity.
Most recently, under the Daesh’s three-year reign in northern Iraq, the militants dynamited shrines to saints, forced Christians to pay a special head tax, and enslaved, raped and killed followers of the Yazidi faith.
Sheikh Jabar estimates there are just 10,000 Mandaeans left in Iraq today, a fraction of what it was before. Their numbers are particularly susceptible to the toll of migration because Mandaeism does not accept converts: Worshippers must be born into the faith.
The wars that drove many Mandaeans out of the country also aggravated a water crisis set in motion by deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s ecological policies. Baghdad’s river today is a stew of industrial chemicals, untreated sewage and poisonous agricultural runoff, the Save the Tigris civil society campaign said in a 2018 report.
And water levels are falling, owing to the changing climate and damming in neighboring Turkey, Syria and Iran. About 70 percent of Iraq’s water flows from upstream countries.
In the southern city of Basra, where the Tigris merges with Iraq’s other fabled river, the Euphrates, riots broke out this summer over the chronic pollution and water scarcity. More than a dozen people were killed in the security crackdown.
Still, the two Mesopotamian rivers mentioned in Mandaean scripture hold special significance to the faithful.
Ibtisam Kareem, 45, accepted a sacrament from the cleric and drank a handful of water from the Tigris.
“If you have faith in God,” she said, “this water is like honey.”