- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

BAGHDAD — A purported al Qaeda terrorist was hanged for his role in one of the first major bombings in Iraq — a 2003 blast that killed a Shi’ite leader and 84 others and foreshadowed the four-year insurgency that followed, a Justice Ministry official said yesterday.

Oras Mohammed Abdul-Aziz was executed Tuesday in Baghdad after being sentenced to death in October in the killing of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the official said.

Ministry Undersecretary Busho Ibrahim’s statement was the first word that a suspect had been tried in the huge August 2003 car bombing outside the Shrine of Ali in Najaf, one of Shi’ite Islam’s holiest sites.

Ayatollah al-Hakim was poised to become a major figure in Iraqi politics following the fall of Saddam Hussein. His brother, Abdulaziz al-Hakim, now heads the group, the largest Shi’ite party in parliament.

Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack. Mr. Ibrahim said Abdul-Aziz, from the northern city of Mosul, was affiliated with al Qaeda in Iraq and confessed to other attacks. Included in his confession was the 2004 killing of Abdel-Zahraa Othman, the president of the Governing Council, the U.S.-appointed body that ran Iraq following Saddam’s fall.

The al-Hakim slaying took place 10 days after the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed 23 persons, including the top U.N. envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello — an attack also claimed by al Qaeda in Iraq.

Also yesterday, the military said a U.S. soldier died of wounds sustained in combat Thursday in western Baghdad, and a church leader said gunmen waylaid a minibus south of Kirkuk and seized four Christian men.

Rev. Louis Saka, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop in Kirkuk, said a 21-year-old Christian woman was on the bus when it was stopped Thursday but was released by the captors, who demand a $40,000 ransom. Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes since the 2003 invasion because of threats by Islamic extremists and criminal gangs.

Close to the Iranian border, a suicide attacker detonated his car outside a cafe in a Kurdish village, killing at least 17 persons and wounding four, police said.

The village of Ahmad Maref is near the city of Khanaqin, 85 miles northeast of Baghdad and on the far eastern edge of Diyala province, where U.S. forces are waging an offensive around the main city of Baqouba.