Iraqi witness tells court of beating by paratroopers

Athar Finjan Saddam was felled next to his Toyota pick-up truck on the afternoon of 11 May 2003, in the village of al-Ferkah, near al-U'Zayra in southern Iraq.

The court was told he was attacked alongside his friend Nadhem Abdullah, 18, who was sitting in the truck's passenger seat. Mr Abdullah died in the early hours of the next morning.

Seven soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment are on trial for the murder of Mr Abdullah and also face a charge of violent disorder before a military court at Colchester, Essex. They deny the charges.

The incident allegedly took place three weeks after hostilities in Iraq officially came to an end. Sixteen other Iraqi witnesses, including a pregnant woman and a woman who had recently given birth who claim they were assaulted in the same incident, are due to give evidence at the trial.

Mr Finjan Saddam, who said he was aged 17, a stocky figure in a brown and yellow shirt, moustache and goatee beard, gave his account to the court through an interpreter. Sitting six feet from the accused paratroopers, Mr Finjan Saddam told the court that the encounter began as he was ferrying people, including Mr Abdullah, in a pick-up from al-U'Zayra to al-Ferkah.

The court heard that the soldiers were carrying out patrols north of Basra soon after the official end of the war. A British Army patrol in two vehicles, which had been chasing a white Nissan car, "cut off'' Mr Finjan Saddam's car as the soldiers approached him.

"When they approached us, they were angry, they were nervous,'' he said. "I showed them the registration of the car. I was talking to them but they were not understanding what I was saying ... nobody spoke to us.

"They started to beat me and beat my friend. They started beating us both with their rifle butts, their helmets, fists and feet. They hit me on my forearm, my elbow, my head, my back, all over my body. They were beating him [Mr Abdullah] on his back and his stomach. After that, I fell ... I did not see him again alive."

Corporal Scott Evans, 32; Private Billy Nerney, 24; Private Samuel May, 25; Private Morne Vosloo, 26; and former privates Daniel Harding, 25, Roberto Di-Gregorio, 24, and Scott Jackson, 26, deny charges of murder and violent disorder.

The case continues.