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Britain in dock over violent death of Iraqi

European court to decide if detention during search for Saddam supporters was unlawful

The unexplained and violent death of a civilian captured by British forces in Iraq will be raised at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) this week. Judges will consider whether Tarek Hassan suffered "arbitrary and unlawful" arrest and detention, with British authorities failing to investigate the circumstances of his detention, ill-treatment and death.

The 22-year-old was a professional footballer and not an enemy combatant. The youngest of seven siblings, he had just finished college when the Iraq war started. His family believe he was targeted by British soldiers hunting his elder brother, Khadim, who was a senior member of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party, in April 2003. In a statement, the Hassan family said: "On the day of his detention, all the family were staying away from home. We knew that ex-members of the Ba'ath party were targets for either the British army or militias that started working under British control."

Eyewitnesses saw soldiers dragging Tarek, hooded, out of the house in Umm Qasr kicking and beating him, according to solicitors representing the family. His relatives said: "We never imagined that British forces would kidnap our youngest son Tarek in order to force his older brother Khadim to hand himself in. This is illegal, immoral and cannot be justified." They claimed that when they searched for him the British military authorities in Basra denied he was in their custody.

He was taken to Camp Bucca, a detention facility run by US and British forces in southern Iraq. A confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross details abuse of prisoners, including the shooting dead of two men, in the camp and cites military estimates that up to 90 per cent of all detainees were "arrested by mistake".

The Government claims Tarek was released in May 2003. Four months later his family received a telephone call. His body had been found in northern Iraq, 650 miles from his home. He had been shot eight times and his wrists were tied with handcuffs of a type commonly used by UK and US forces, according to the family's solicitors. His Camp Bucca identity tag was found on him, as was a piece of paper with the family's phone number on it.

There is no suggestion that British soldiers killed or tortured the young Iraqi. But Tarek's family said: "It has been 10 years and we are still awaiting answers. We are entitled to know all the details, and we will never rest until the British army is held responsible for kidnapping our youngest son for no crime, then hiding all the details of his release and subsequent death."

Tarek Hassan was a victim of a "witch-hunt of Ba'athists – people loyal to the old regime", according to Mazin Younis, chairman of Iraqi Human Rights Monitor. British forces went "on the rampage looking for anybody," he claimed, which "created enemies needlessly".

Tarek's case is the fourth to go before the ECHR regarding the actions of Britain's armed forces in Iraq – the Government has lost the previous three. More than 300 claims of unlawful detention have been settled to date, at a cost of £17.8m, according to Ministry of Defence figures.