Irish-born aid worker's murderer missing from prison

Thu, Jul 15, 2010, 01:00

AN IRAQI man tried and convicted of the 2004 kidnapping and murder of Irish-born aid worker Margaret Hassan has gone missing from a Baghdad prison.

Hassan’s sister Geraldine Fitsimonds Riney said the family had been notified by their Iraqi lawyer that Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi, sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2009, will not appear at his appeal today because he cannot be traced.

“We are devastated that this has happened and we want the Iraqi ministry of justice to find him. In spite of arrest warrants for the [kidnap] gang, he was the only one they had in custody,” said Mrs Riney.

The family had hoped that Rawi would reveal where Hassan was buried so her remains could be accorded a Christian burial in Britain. Since Rawi did not appear at repeatedly postponed hearings over the past four months, the family’s lawyer went to the prison in May with an official from the ministry of justice. They were told Rawi was in the facility. However, on Tuesday, Mrs Riney said, the lawyer checked again and was told Rawi could not be located.

Hassan’s murderer has not made a court appearance since his sentencing. It is suspected that he disappeared many months ago.

Rawi had based his appeal on the claim that he was abroad at the time of the abduction and murder by a group trading hostages for cash.

However, Mrs Riney said after an investigation of his passport: “The evidence was against him.”

Rawi was arrested in March 2008 after he attempted to extort $1 million from the British embassy in Baghdad as payment for disclosing where Hassan’s body had been buried. Rawi knew details of her life which could only have been obtained by conversations with her and claimed to have “put her in her grave”.

He was the only Iraqi still held for involvement in Hassan’s murder. A second man, Mustafa Salman al-Jibouri, arrested in 2005 with her handbag and other personal effects, was also jailed for life but the sentence was reduced to 45 months on appeal and he received an amnesty before completing his term.

Born in Dublin and raised in London, Margaret Fitsimonds married Iraqi engineer Tahsin Hassan and lived for 30 years in Baghdad where she joined Care International and worked on water, sanitation and health projects. Her abduction was protested by hundreds of Iraqis.