BAGHDAD (AP) – Five members of Iraq’s presidential guard will go on trial later this month for their alleged roles in a deadly Baghdad bank robbery, an act that illustrated the increase in crime in Iraq, a court spokesman said Thursday.
The Interior Ministry has said the heist was a rogue act committed by men belonging to the security detail charged with protecting Iraqi officials, and denied speculation they were part of a larger conspiracy to use the money to fund insurgent groups.
The pre-dawn robbery at the state-run Rafidain Bank in central Baghdad on July 28 left eight security guards dead as the attackers made off with about 8 billion Iraqi Dinars ($6.9 million).
Warrants have been issued for three other members of the security detail, who also have been implicated in the heist and remain at large, said Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council. He said the trial for the five men is set to begin Aug. 23.
The robbery raised questions about the infiltration of criminals and militants among Iraq’s security forces as they assume responsibility from withdrawing U.S. forces. The five men were part of a presidential brigade that provides security for Iraqi officials. Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, the senior member of Iraq’s most influential Shiite party, said one of the guards charged in the robbery worked as part of his detail.
Abdul-Mahdi has been under fire from media and political opponents, who have questioned whether he had a role, since authorities discovered the stolen money in the office of a newspaper he owns.
Abdul-Mahdi, who heads the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, denounced the allegations, calling them a politically motivated campaign aimed at discrediting him ahead of next year’s general election.
Questions were raised by Iraqi investigators of a possible inside source who may have aided the robbers by providing information about the bank’s security.
No doors or windows were broken and the bank was robbed just after it had received a large transfer of cash, investigators said. They also said the bank security guards were tied up and executed, and that the robbers used blowtorches to access the bank’s safe.
Initially, Iraqi and U.S. officials blamed the attacks on militants trying to raise funds for operations, although they did not elaborate on the reason for that conclusion or say which militant group they believed was responsible. But an aide for Iraq’s Interior Minister, Jawad al-Bolani, later said the robbery was a criminal act not connected to any insurgent group.