Soldiers accused of another fatal beating

Second 'heart attack' claim dismissed by victim's family
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The Independent Online

The family of an Iraqi headmaster who was seen being beaten with a rifle butt by British soldiers before they took him away, was told he had died in custody of a "sudden heart attack".

But his son, who was also arrested, told The Independent on Sunday yesterday that he heard his father screaming as he was beaten, and the family says that the headmaster's body was bruised and covered in blood.

The last thing Bashar Mousa remembers about his father is the sound of his screams as they were both kicked and beaten by British soldiers, the young man claims. Then suddenly the screaming stopped.

His head covered with a hood, Mr Mousa could not see what had happened. His own beating stopped and he was led away. He never saw his father again, but his family say they found the body of Abdel Jabr Mousa, the headmaster of Al-Fraedh primary school in Basra, bruised and covered with blood in a Basra hospital.

The case of the 53-year-old is one of seven deaths of Iraqi civilians in British custody that the Ministry of Defence has admitted it is investigating, after the IoS first revealed the case of Baha Mousa, no relation, who died after being arrested by British soldiers last September.

The other man said to have died of a "sudden heart attack" is Radhi Nea'ma. In his case the MoD says it has completed its investigation, which showed he died of natural causes and there was no case to answer.

The headmaster was arrested on 15 May last year. Bashar, 23, said British soldiers came to the family house and told them they were looking for a neighbour who had been an officer in the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein. While they were searching, they found a Kalashnikov rifle the family ­ like every other Iraqi family facing the lawlessness that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Saddam ­ kept to protect themselves.

But the discovery changed the mood of the soldiers abruptly. "My father tried to explain to them, but they just started hitting him in the head with the wooden butt of the Kalashnikov," said Mr Mousa. "They dragged him out of the house, bleeding from his leg. Then one of them told me to come with him. He said, 'Give me the rest of the weapons.' I told him there were no more.

"Then he took me to another room and started beating me. He put his hands around my throat and pushed me up against a wall. His hands were so tight I lost consciousness ... Then he dragged me to the personnel carrier."

Mr Mousa alleges he and his father were taken along with a third prisoner, the officer neighbour, to a British army base in the former house of Ali Majid ­ "Chemical Ali". There they were forced to wear hoods and taken to a room where they were beaten for an hour. After his father abruptly stopped screaming, Mr Mousa said, he was taken to a different room where he was given food and medical attention, and a change of clothes. After one night, he was taken to American-run Camp Bucca in nearby Umm Qasr, where he was held until 20 June.

The family allege they knew where the two men had been taken because of a disturbing incident. They said the soldiers were searching for another man, who they identify as Kareem, and threatened to arrest his wife and daughters unless he gave himself up. The soldiers, they said, left a message that Kareem should surrender to a Sergeant Henderson of the Black Watch at Chemical Ali's old house.

When Bashar's brother, Ammar, went there he was taken to a military doctor who told him his father was dead. He said the body was in Basra hospital and gave Ammar a note instructing the hospital to release the body, on which Ammar claims he wrote that the cause of death was a sudden heart attack.

"When I found the body, there was blood in his mouth," says Ammar. "There were wounds all over him, and a huge blue bruise like a bootprint on his left side." The death certificate, signed by Dr Haider Mohammed Saleh, says that the cause of death was "Sudden heart attack: infarction of the heart muscles".

Although Bashar was a civilian, he was held at Camp Bucca as an enemy prisoner of war. The IoS has seen his prisoner's wristband and his Red Cross POW papers, number IQZ-120259-01. His release papers say there is no evidence to doubt he is a civilian.

The family demanded an investigation, and several members were interviewed as witnesses. But Ammar, the eldest son, said the investigators told him the family were unlikely to get compensation after he refused to give permission for his father's body to be exhumed for an autopsy. "I couldn't put my father through that, so long after he died," Ammar said.

There are disturbing parallels between the case of Mr Mousa and that of Mr Nea'ma, who died on 8 June. His sister Afaf says that when she found his body in a Basra hospital, "I didn't recognise him because of the terrible state he was in. His dishdasha was ripped. There was blood on his body and mud in his hair. There was blue bruising on his side like someone had kicked him." The family were given a death certificate which recorded the cause of death as "sudden heart attack".

Ms Nea'ma said that on 8 June "around six British armoured personnel carriers surrounded our house. They said they had come for my brother, Mohammed, and that they had received information he was buying weapons. We told them he was not here, and that we bought a gun because we were afraid of the Baathists. They weren't satisfied and they took my father ... They put a bag over his head and put him in their personnel carrier."

The next day, a British patrol came with a message for the family. Their father had heart problems and had been taken to hospital. Thinking he was still alive, they searched the wards at all Basra's hospitals. Despairing, Afaf checked a mortuary at one hospital and found his body.

"Even if Mohammed had done something wrong, why did they take my husband?" asks his widow, Rajieh. Mohammed was subsequently arrested ­ and released for lack of evidence, the family said.

Last night, the MoD repeated that Mr Nea'ma had died of natural causes. A spokeswoman said she could not comment on Mr Mousa as the investigation is continuing.