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Iraqi police 'killed 14-year-old boy for being homosexual'

Human rights groups have condemned the "barbaric" murder of a 14-year-old boy, who, according to witnesses, was shot on his doorstep by Iraqi police for the apparent crime of being gay.

Ahmed Khalil was shot at point-blank range after being accosted by men in police uniforms, according to his neighbours in the al-Dura area of Baghdad.

Campaign groups have warned of a surge in homophobic killings by state security services and religious militias following an anti-gay and anti-lesbian fatwa issued by Iraq's most prominent Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Ali Hili, the co-ordinator of a group of exiled Iraqi gay men who monitor homophobic attacks inside Iraq, said the fatwa had instigated a "witch-hunt of lesbian and gay Iraqis, including violent beatings, kidnappings and assassinations".

"Young Ahmed was a victim of poverty," he said. "He was summarily executed, apparently by fundamentalist elements in the Iraqi police."

Neighbours in al-Dura district say Ahmed's father was arrested and interrogated two days before his son's murder by police who demanded to know about Ahmed's sexual activities. It is believed Ahmed slept with men for money to support his poverty-stricken family, who have fled the area fearing further reprisals.

The killing of Ahmed is one of a series of alleged homophobic murders. There is mounting evidence that fundamentalists have infiltrated government security forces to commit homophobic murders while wearing police uniforms.

Human rights groups are particularly concerned that the Sadr and Badr militias, both Shia, have stepped up their attacks on the gay community after a string of religious rulings, since the US-led invasion, calling for the eradication of homosexuals.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani recently issued a fatwa on his website calling for the execution of gays in the "worst, most severe way".

The powerful Badr militia acts as the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which counts Ayatollah Sistani as its spiritual leader. Another fatwa from the late and much revered Ayatollah Abul Qassim Khoei allows followers to kill gays "with a sword, or burn him alive, or tie his hands and feet and hurl him down from a high place".

Mr Hili said: "According to our contacts in Baghdad, the Iraqi police have been heavily infiltrated by the Shia paramilitary Badr Corps."

Mr Hili, whose Abu Nawas group has close links with clandestine gay activists inside Iraq, said US coalition forces are unwilling to try and tackle the rising tide of homophobic attacks. "They just don't want to upset the Iraqi government by bringing up the taboo of homosexuality even though homophobic murders have intensified," he said.

A number of public homophobic murders by the Badr militia have terrified Iraq's gay community. Last September, Hayder Faiek, a transsexual, was burnt to death by Badr militias in the main street of Baghdad's al-Karada district. In January, suspected militants shot another gay man in the back of the head.

The US State Department has yet to document the surge in its annual human rights reports. Iraq's neighbours, however, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are often criticised for their persecution of gays.

Darla Jordan, from the US State Department said: "The US government continues to work closely with our Iraqi partners to ensure the protection of human rights and the safety of all Iraqi citizens."