Sunday, August 1, 2010

Family of Iraq attempted murder plant Margaret Hassan plead: Tell us where her physique is

Catherine Fitzsimons, Deidre Fitzsimons, Geraldine Fitzsimons and Bertie Ahern

David Brown & , : {}

Every time that Tahseen Ali Hassan travels from his home in Jordan to join his wifes family in southwest London he visits the cemetery where she wanted to be buried alongside her parents.

Shortly before Margaret Hassan was killed, she had asked her Iraqi husband to ensure that her body was returned home if she died first, describing the picturesque East Sheen Cemetery on the edge of Richmond Park.

Five years after Mrs Hassan was dragged from a car in west Baghdad and later blindfolded, gagged and shot twice in the head, her family are still waiting for her body to come back.

The murder of Mrs Hassan who had lived in Iraq for 30 years and was head of the humanitarian charity Care International came to symbolise the savagery of Iraqi insurgency.

Related LinksFamily of hostage betrayed by Chilcot inquiry Margaret Hassan: The Times obituary

Her familys last hope of discovering her body now rests with an Iraqi who is the only person convicted of her murder. However, that man, Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, faces a retrial in two weeks time on charges of murder, kidnap and blackmailing the British Embassy, and the family fear that they may now never get an answer.

The family are appealing for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give the court details of secret negotiations with Mrs Hassans kidnappers which they believe proves al-Rawis guilt.

At the end of her life Margaret was treated with such indignity, she was treated like she was worthless, said Deirdre Manchanda, the eldest of her three sisters. They also have a brother.

During conversations with two Scotland Yard negotiators based at the British Embassy in Baghdad, al-Rawi, 37, admitted being part of the kidnap gang. He demanded $1 million for revealing the location of Mrs Hassans grave.

Time and time again he boasted about knowing where Margarets remains were, said Mrs Manchanda. Some of the detail is so upsetting that I cannot read it.

He was sentenced to life in jail in June last year but appealed and was granted the retrial. He has produced a passport that he claims proves he was outside Iraq at the time of the kidnapping. The original trial was told that more than 90 e-mails and telephone calls were made to the British Embassy in the autumn of 2007 by an English speaker calling himself Abu Rasha.

After his arrest in March 2008, alRawi made a written confession to murder and kidnap, saying that he was a member of the Twentieth Revolution Brigade, which raised funds by hostage-taking. He later withdrew the admission, claiming that he had been tortured during interrogation after being seized by US and Iraqi special forces.

Mrs Hassans family says that the transcripts of al-Rawis three months of negotiations with the embassy prove his guilt as they include details that could be known only to a member of the kidnap gang. The family hopes that the documents can be used in evidence at al-Rawis retrial, due on April 5, but says that the Foreign Office has so far failed to the transcripts formally to the Central Court of Cassation in Baghdad.

We cannot stress enough the importance of this evidence being put before the judges well in advance of the trial date in accordance with the Iraqi legal system, said Mrs Manchanda, 59.

The family had given their own transcripts to the court but believe they will lack authority unless formally submitted by the British Embassy. They also want the two Scotland Yard negotiators to provide affidavits.

Al-Rawi, an architect, told negotiators he was the only English speaker in the gang that seized Mrs Hassan, and had interrogated her during her two weeks in captivity. He said he asked her a question about a highly personal fact that she never discussed and has never been made public. He must have been there and Margaret must have been very, very frightened to have talked about it, said her sister.

Al-Rawi e-mailed the embassy a photograph of Mrs Hassans camera, including the serial number, which she was carrying at the time she was seized. In one exchange he told the British negotiator: I can help you find Margarets body, because I put her in the grave. I can guide you to the house she was killed in and you can examine the remaining blood and fingerprints.

Mrs Hassans family hopes that if he is convicted again he can be persuaded to say where the grave is, in the hope of receiving a reduced sentence.

We are not doing this out of vindictiveness, although I do think murderers should be in prison, said Mrs Manchanda. I want him to be found guilty so he can be persuaded to tell us where Margaret is. If he walks free he will never say and we will never know.

Margarets wish was always to come home. She may have been born in Ireland but she came here as a baby and was very English. She asked my brother-in-law, If I die before you will you take me home to be buried?. This is the last chance to fulfil her wish.

Mrs Manchanda admits that she has become consumed with investigating her sisters murder in October 2004 and the continuing hunt for her remains. From the West London home where she lives with her husband and two children, she has studied translations of the new Iraqi penal code, worked with the Iraqi Embassy in London, briefed lawyers in Baghdad and chivvied the authorities in both countries.

I want to get on with my life, said Mrs Manchanda. Returning her body would give the whole family and I hate to use the word closure. My sister was snatched because she was British. I want the British Government to help to get her justice.

Mrs Manchanda hopes that Gordon Brown will fulfil a pledge made this month to help. She and her sister, Kathryn, met the Prime Minister for 40 minutes during lunch when he was giving evidence to the Iraq inquiry. Later that day he sent them a letter reiterating the Governments support with a handwritten note adding: I will do all I can.

I believe that he will help, said Mrs Manchanda. He seemed genuinely interested and concerned.

The Foreign Office said that it was aware of the retrial and was providing consular assistance to Mrs Hassans family. We hope that justice is done for this dreadful crime committed against someone who dedicated her life to helping all Iraqis, said the spokesman.

We stand willing to assist the Iraqi authorities in any way we properly can, not least in locating Margarets remains for burial in the UK.

Other leading kidnap gang suspects are still on the run. They include Assaad al-Hashmi, Iraqis former Culture Minister, and Sheikh Hussuin al-Zubayi, a wealthy cleric believed to be a central figure in the plot.

The only other person convicted in connection with Mrs Hassans kidnap was released after less than three years in jail. Mustafa Salman al-Jabouri, named by al-Rawi as a member of the gang, was jailed for life in 2006 for aiding and abetting the plot, but the sentence was cut to 45 months on appeal.

For Mrs Manchanda and her family the retrial of al-Rawi is the last chance.

Margaret was our big sister, she said. We want her home.

Long years of anguish

October 19, 2004 Margaret Hassan, 59, right, the head of Care International in Iraq, is seized by gunmen on her way to work in Baghdad

October 20 Tahseen Ali Hassan, Mrs Hassans Iraqi husband, appeals for her release

November 16 Mrs Hassans family say they believe that she is dead after the kidnap gang produce a video apparently showing her murder

May 1, 2005 Eleven people are arrested by Iraqi forces in connection with her killing

June, 2006 Mustafa Salman al-Jabouri is sentenced to life in prison for helping Mrs Hassans kidnappers. He is released under an amnesty in 2007

August, 2008 Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi arrested by US and Iraqi special forces after his mobile telephone was traced

June 2, 2009 Al-Rawi given life for kidnap, extortion and murder

November 2009 Al-Rawi wins the right to a retrial

April 5, 2010 Retrial due to be held in Baghdad


Post a Comment