Outspoken father of missing activist killed in Iraq’s south

Aboud was vocal in his search for his son Ali Jasb, a lawyer who disappeared at the height of anti-government protests in 2019.

In this July 29, 2020 photo, Jasb Hattab Aboud, father of kidnapped protester Ali Jasb, cries as he holds his son's picture in his home in Amara, Iraq [File: Nabil al-Jurani/AP Photo]

The father of a missing Iraqi anti-government activist who waged a public campaign trying to bring to account a militia suspected of abducting him was shot dead.

Jasb Hattab Aboud died of a gunshot wound to the head at 6pm (15:00 GMT) on Wednesday in the southern city of Amara, said Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for the semi-official Independent Human Rights Commission.

Local media outlets quoted security sources saying unidentified men on a motorcycle attacked Aboud with automatic weapons, killing him on the spot.

A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, confirmed the killing and said preliminary investigations were under way. Iraqi authorities have not identified the perpetrators.

Aboud was uncommonly vocal in his search for his son Ali Jasb, a lawyer who was one of a number of activists who vanished at the height of Iraq’s mass anti-government demonstrations in October 2019. Aboud publicly accused a powerful Iran-backed militia of kidnapping him, and even took the dangerous step of seeking to take its leader to court.

Other families of missing activists were more reserved, often fearing reprisal if they spoke out.

The Missan Police Directorate said late on Wednesday it had arrested Aboud’s killer and he was now in the custody of security forces, without giving further details.

Campaign of terror

Jasb, who has not been heard from since surveillance footage captured his abduction on October 8, 2019, in Amara in the province of Missan, came to symbolise the campaign of terror waged by militias, widely believed to have abducted dozens of prominent activists and to have killed more than 60.

The protests were largely silenced by a combination of the coronavirus and a violent crackdown by security forces and militias that, according to the commission, killed more than 500 people.

The European Union ambassador to Iraq, Martin Huth, highlighted the shooting on his Twitter page, posting a photo of Aboud with the comment, “Pope gone. Back to normal?”

Huth later deleted his post without explanation, much to the chagrin of some Iraqi social media users.

Aboud was a determined figure who for a time was a fixture on local media, reminding the Iraqi public about his missing son and seeking justice. He routinely took the six-hour bus journey from his rural town to the capital, Baghdad, to meet his lawyer. He always carried the documents he believed would deliver justice in a court of law.

The Associated Press news agency followed Aboud’s attempts to push a criminal case against the powerful commander of Ansar Allah al-Awfia, one of the more hardline pro-Iranian militias. The armed group was incorporated under the state-sponsored umbrella organisation Popular Mobilization Forces, created to fight ISIL (ISIS) in 2014.

At every turn, the criminal case revealed the weakness of Iraq’s judicial institutions vis-a-vis the growing power of militia groups.

Initial proceedings in Missan’s courts came to a standstill when testimony revealed a link between the abduction and the head of al-Awfia, local commander Haidar al-Gharawi. Frustrated by the delay, Aboud transferred the case to Baghdad where an investigative judge deemed there was insufficient evidence to push the case forward.

‘Government turns blind eye’

Iraqi social media users expressed their shock and anger at Aboud’s killing, using the Arabic hashtag “The father of the kidnapped is a martyr”.

Many blamed the government for failing to protect citizens from Iran-backed armed groups.

“The government gives a blind eye to the institutionalised terrorism by PMF and their militias,” one user tweeted.

In the southern city of Samawah, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to denounce the killing of Aboud and called for the local government to resign.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies