BAGHDAD (AP) – A Baghdad court on Wednesday sentenced four members of Iraq’s security forces to death for their roles in a bank heist in the Iraqi capital that left eight bank guards dead.
A three-judge panel gave the men a month to appeal the swift sentence in a case that has the potential for political fallout after at least one of the suspects was linked to a senior official in a major Shiite party.
Gunmen broke into the state-run Rafidain Bank at about 4 a.m. on July 28, killing three on-duty guards and five others on the premises who were either on a break or asleep, according to police investigators. The bank’s chief testified during the trial that 5.6 billion Iraqi dinars, or about $4.8 million, was stolen.
Most of the money was later recovered in the office of a newspaper owned by Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a senior member of Iraq’s largest Shiite party, investigators said.
Abdul-Mahdi has denied any involvement but said one of those charged in the robbery worked as part of his security detail. He has said any suggestion of wrongdoing on his part was a politically motivated attempt to sabotage his re-election efforts in next January’s national elections.
A fifth defendant, who worked at the newspaper, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Throughout the trial, he maintained that he was arrested because he was related to one of four other suspects wanted in the case who are on the run.
The chief judge, who refused to be identified for personal security reasons, told The Associated Press shortly after the sentencing that the four suspects at large would be tried in absentia. He did not set a trial date.
The proceedings in the case were emotionally charged, with a judge briefly adjourning hearings after relatives of those killed in the heist beat and spat on the defendants. The relatives were banned from entering the court for the sentencing.
Outside the courtroom, Ali Hussein Ali said he was satisfied with the sentencing of the men who killed his brother but that the feeling will not be “complete until the others who are still at-large are arrested and brought to justice.”