The father of a missing Iraqi anti-government activist who led a public campaign to try to bring a militia suspected of kidnapping to justice has been shot dead.
Jasb Hattab Aboud died of a gunshot wound to the head at 6 p.m. (3 p.m. GMT) in the southern town of Amara on Wednesday, said Ali al-Bayati, spokesperson for the semi-official Independent Commission of human rights.
Local media quoted security sources as saying that unidentified men on motorcycles attacked Aboud with automatic weapons, killing him on the spot.
A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations, confirmed the murder and said preliminary investigations were underway. Iraqi authorities have not identified the perpetrators.
Aboud has been unusually vocal in his search for his son Ali Jasb, a lawyer who was one of many activists who disappeared at the height of mass anti-government protests in Iraq in October 2019. Aboud has publicly accused a powerful kidnapper of Iran-backed militia. him, and even took the dangerous step of seeking to bring his leader to justice.
Other families of missing activists were more reserved, often fearing reprisals if they spoke out.
The Missan Police Department said Wednesday evening that it had arrested Aboud’s killer and that he was now in the custody of security forces, without giving further details.
Campaign of terror
Jasb, who has not been heard since surveillance footage captured his kidnapping on October 8, 2019, in Amara, Missan province, has come to symbolize the campaign of terror by militias, widely suspected of ‘kidnapping dozens of leading activists and killing more than 60.
The protests were largely silenced by a combination of the coronavirus and a violent crackdown on security forces and militias which the commission said killed more than 500 people.
European Union Ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth highlighted the shooting on his Twitter page, posting a photo of Aboud with the comment: “The Pope is gone. Back to normal?”
Huth then deleted his post without explanation, much to the chagrin of some Iraqi social media users.
Why did you write down your last comment about Ali’s father? Are you too scared? What kind of human are you? The European countries you represent participated in the invocation along with the United States which allowed a corrupt and heartless animal to control and rule the Iraqi people. pic.twitter.com/n8zpDhsKVn
– Iraqi4EveR Iraqi Libya (@ asy635) March 11, 2021
Aboud was a determined figure who for a time was part of the local media, reminding the Iraqi public of his son’s disappearance and demanding justice. He regularly took the six-hour bus ride from his rural town to the capital, Baghdad, to meet his lawyer. He always carried the documents he believed he could do justice to in court.
The Associated Press news agency followed Aboud’s attempts to push a criminal case against the powerful commander of Ansar Allah al-Awfia, one of the most extremist pro-Iran militias. The armed group was incorporated as part of the state-sponsored umbrella organization, Popular Mobilization Forces, created to fight ISIL (ISIS) in 2014.
At every turn, the criminal case revealed the weakness of Iraqi judicial institutions in the face of the growing power of the militias.
Initial proceedings in Missan’s courts came to a halt when testimonies revealed a link between the kidnapping and al-Awfia leader, local commander Haidar al-Gharawi. Frustrated by the delay, Aboud transferred the case to Baghdad where an investigating judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to move the case forward.
“ The government turns a blind eye ”
Iraqi social media users expressed their shock and anger over Aboud’s murder, using the Arabic hashtag “The father of the kidnapped is a martyr”.
I can’t believe the father of a kidnapped Iraqi activist who was crying for his son was murdered by notorious gunmen before even knowing anything about his son!#Iraq
Iraqi translations – Noor Riyad (@TargamaIQ) March 11, 2021
Many criticized the government for failing to protect citizens of Iranian-backed armed groups.
Iraqi government, led by Kadhimi, complicit in the daily killing of innocent Iraqis because it does not want to protect the Iraqi people The kidnapper’s father is a martyr
– Bilal Younis (@ BilalYo13583752) March 10, 2021
“The government turns a blind eye to terrorism institutionalized by the PMF and its militias,” one user tweeted.
Today Ali Chasib’s father was murdered by PMF, Ali is a lawyer kidnapped by PMF who was probably murdered the same day.
– 🇮🇶تشريني🇮🇶 (@ iraqi_october25) March 10, 2021
– Bilal Younis (@ BilalYo13583752) March 10, 2021
In the southern town of Samawah, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to denounce Aboud’s murder and called on the local government to resign.
Thousands of demonstrators, Samawah, demonstrate to denounce the assassination of lawyer Ali Jaseb’s father and to dismiss the local government pic.twitter.com/VP9HoCuypU
– موسى جواد – Mousa Jawad (@ mousajawad01) March 11, 2021