UK envoy to Iraq threatened by pro-Iran militias

Stephen Hickey, right, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, February 24, 2018. (Reuters)
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Updated 29 July 2020

UK envoy to Iraq threatened by pro-Iran militias

  • Stephen Hickey had urged Baghdad to reject influence of ‘armed groups operating outside state control’
  • Images of Hickey’s face were doctored to appear as though smeared with blood – series of posts warned him not to interfere in the country’s affairs

LONDON: The UK’s ambassador in Baghdad has been threatened by Iran-backed militias on social media, in response to his call for Iraq to reject the armed groups operating in the country.

Stephen Hickey, who took up the post in Baghdad in September 2019, had warned on his personal Twitter account that “armed groups operating outside state control” are damaging Iraq’s development and operating outside the law. 

He was subjected to mocked up images of his face being shared on the messaging app Telegram by Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, an Iraqi Shiite militia, doctored to appear as though smeared with blood, as well as a series of posts warning him not to interfere in the country’s affairs.

A UK Foreign Office spokesman said Britain “has long been clear in its support for Iraqi sovereignty and stability, and its position that all armed groups within Iraq should fall under the control of the Iraqi government.”

He added: “The safety of our staff is of paramount importance and we keep our security under constant review.”

The response comes as part of a wider campaign of harassment against public figures vocal in their opposition to the influence of pro-Iran militias and proxy groups in Iraq, referred to broadly as Al-Hashd Al-Shabi, or the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).

Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba, founded in 2013 and with a reported 10,000 fighters to its name, is one of the more substantial militias.

The largest, Kataib Hezbollah, which has been responsible for numerous attacks on UK and US service personnel in Iraq, claims to have as many as 30,000 members.

“Despite the recent departure of British troops from Taji air base, UK diplomatic staff are still under regular threat from pro-Iranian hardline Shiite factions in Iraq,” said Evan Kohlmann, a senior analyst at security consultancy Flashpoint.

“Those factions seethe at comments from the outspoken UK ambassador in support of the Iraqi government and its efforts to end continuing rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad.”

Kataib Hezbollah is thought to have been behind the December 2019 rocket attack on a US military base that killed an American contractor, as well as the March 2020 rocket attack on Camp Taji that killed two American soldiers and one British soldier. 

It was also allegedly behind the attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad that set in motion a chain of events that led to the assassination in January of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport.

As well as militarily, the PMF also exerts power through political allies in Iraq’s Parliament and by intimidating opponents.

Iraq’s newly appointed Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has vowed to crack down on them.

In June, he ordered a raid on Kataib Hezbollah’s offices, which led to the arrest of a dozen members suspected of involvement in the US Embassy attack. 

Lebanon extradites three accused of rape in Egypt

Updated 50 min 3 sec ago

Lebanon extradites three accused of rape in Egypt

  • The public prosecution confronted the defendants with film evidence of their crimes and a statement from the victim
  • The case dates back to 2014, but became public at the end of July 2020

CAIRO: Lebanese authorities have handed over three of the accused in the case of the gang rape of a young woman in a hotel in Cairo, known as the Fairmont incident, to the Egyptian authorities.
A statement by Egypt’s public prosecution stated that it had received a message from Interpol to arrest the fugitive suspects for the attack on an 18-year-old woman at the Fairmont Nile City hotel in Cairo in 2014.
The public prosecution confronted the defendants with film evidence of their crimes and a statement from the victim. The public prosecution asked the defendants about how the crime occurred and the role of each of them, as well as interrogating them about the method of their escape to Lebanon.
After Amr Hafez and Amir Zayed were arrested for a similar incident, the public prosecution investigated six other defendants.
Among the defendants was Nazli Karim, daughter of the actress Noha Al-Amrousy, and Ahmed Al-Ganzouri, the organizer of the Fairmont hotel party on the night of the crime.
At the end of last month, the Lebanese National News Agency announced that the Internal Security Forces Directorate received a letter from Egyptian Interpol containing the names of seven Egyptian citizens accused of raping a woman who were in Lebanon.
After investigation, it was found that five of the accused had visited Lebanese territory, two of them had left, and three were still in Lebanon.
The Lebanese agency added that the defendants left the hotels without their bags in what appeared to be an attempt to escape the Lebanese security forces, who raided their place and arrested them in the town of Fatqa, 30 km northeast of Beirut, on Aug. 28.
Earlier, the Egyptian Public Prosecution ordered the detention of three suspects in pretrial detention for a period of four days pending investigation, and released three others in the event that each of them paid bail of 100,000 Egyptian pounds ($6,338), and another with a guarantee of his place of residence.
The prosecution also brought the defendants to the forensic medicine office to determine the extent of their drug use, in addition to investigating the messages on their phones.
It is reported that one of the accused, A.T., is the son of a famous football coach. Egyptian media sites reported that investigation authorities renewed their contact with Interpol to arrest the son of a famous businessman, who is currently in London, because of information indicating his involvement in the case.
The case dates back to 2014, but became public at the end of July 2020 when social media accounts shared stories about Egyptian youths from wealthy families luring a woman during a party at the Fairmont to a hotel room after they put a narcotic in her drink and filmed the incident.
The prosecution began its investigation into the case at the beginning of August, after receiving a complaint from the National Council for Women, an Egyptian government institution that deals with women’s affairs. The complaint included the woman’s evidence and the testimonies of people who provided information about the incident.