Many people only vaguely remember what happened on 10th April 2003
Here is a detailed account of everything that happened. Not just on that specific day, but what happened before and after. This is the story of the life and death of Sayyid Abdul Majid Al-Khoei.
Sayyid Abdul Majid Al-Khoei was born on
One day after the Gulf War cease-fire, the Shia Arab’s decided to launch massive attacks across the country due to the current state of the Iraqi army. Many soldiers and officers also joined the uprising. The Kurd’s soon followed and fought for their region in
Al-Khoei, aged 29 at the time, took part in the uprising and was regularly transporting weapons and fighters between Najaf and its sister city Kerbala. He was also involved in the operations against government buildings in Najaf.
Al-Khoei then set off on a dangerous journey south from Najaf to make contact with the allied forces and receive information about an expected intervention. It took him two days to finally find the French forces stationed in
The Republican Guards in
When he came to
His father who was still under house arrest in Najaf died in 1992 due to ill health.
In 1994, his older brother, Sayyid Mohammed Taqi Al-Khoei was assassinated in a planned car ‘accident’. The Ba’ath regime knew that every Thursday night, he would travel to Kerbala to visit the shrine of Imam Hussein. A lorry was parked sideways in the middle of the Kerbala-Najaf highway, and as he was returning his vehicle smashed straight into it in pitch black darkness. The highway was then closed at both ends preventing anyone from coming to his aide.
His driver, his brother in-law (with his 6 year old son) were all killed instantly. Sayyid Mohammed Taqi survived the initial crash but bled to death in the middle of the highway.
After his brother’s death, Al-Khoei became the Secretary General of the Al-Khoei Foundation and continued to work for the Shia community. Soon the Foundation became a UN-affiliated consultative body. The first ever Shia institution to have such status.
He later became friends with members of the Jordanian Royal family, most notably the late King Hussein and his brother, Prince Hassan.
A few months before the war, he was approached by the American government who told him of their plans to invade
He managed to round up 25 Iraqis from the
The men gathered at his house on
In Najaf, Al-Khoei helped negotiate a peaceful withdrawal of the
The rest of his colleagues arrived to Najaf on 9th April. The
Speaking to Amir Taheri on 9th April he said “I still cannot believe I am talking to you from Najaf…free Najaf!”
Al-Khoei took almost $700,000 in cash with him to
They left to go to the shrine and after visiting the tomb of Imam Ali, they went to a room on the courtyard where Al-Khoei’s father, mother and brothers are buried.
They then walked across the courtyard and entered the “Killidariya” (the office of the custodian of the shrine). The office has a room and main hall. They were all seated at the main hall when all of a sudden two men walked up to the window and started shouting “Yes Yes for Al-Sadr”. Soon more men joined them and they started banging on the windows shouting pro-Sadr slogans such as “Long Live Al-Sadr”. Al-Khoei asked for a speaker phone to address the angry crowd but they refused to hear him. Things got more serious when they broke the window. When they broke the window, Al-Khoei took out his pistol and fired a single shot into the air in the hope of forcing them to retreat.
One of the Sadrists then opened fire from inside the shrine directly towards the office. Soon all the men inside the Killidariya came under fire. It started with sporadic bursts and then turned into heavy gunfire. Most of them took refuge inside the room in the Killidariya to stay away from the windows and gunfire.
Al-Khoei carried a 9mm pistol. Mahir Al-Yasseri, an American Iraqi who came to help Al-Khoei, had an AK-47. There was another pistol and AK-47 with the group.
As they had very limited ammunition, they tried their best to conserve their bullets and would only fire blindly when the Sadrists approached the door of the office. Heavily out-numbered and out-gunned it wasn’t long before they ran out of ammunition. Al-Yasseri stood by the window and fired the remaining bullets of his gun, when the Sadrists returned fire a bullet hit him just beneath the bullet-proof vest he was wearing and he fell to the floor. He was dragged away from the hall and into the room. He died soon after.
At this point Sayyid Abdul Majid walked out of the Killidariya and shouted at the angry mob. “You have just killed a Sayyid [descendant of the Prophet]…this is a holy shrine…why are you doing this?” While he was speaking, someone shot him in the hand and a few of his fingers were severed. He ran back to the Killidariya where they wrapped a scarf around his hand to stop the bleeding.
Out of ammunition and with no escape route, the men surrendered by waving a white shirt at the mob. Of the two dozen men with him, only a handful remained up to this point. After the first few shots were fired, most of the people with Al-Khoei left him and ran away. Five of the Sadrists who came into the room were clerics. Two of them included Riyadh Al-Noori (head of the Sadr Movement in Najaf) and Kais Al-Jaizany (official spokesmen for the movement). After searching the entire room they emptied everyone’s pockets and stole their money, mobile phones, and passports. The very first thing Kais Al-Jaizany said was “Where is Abdul Majid Al-Khoei? [deliberately not using the title “Sayyid”]…Where is the pig son of a pig? Which one of you is Abdul Majid?”
The reason for this aggressive and abusive behavior was because the Sadr family have a bad history with the Al-Khoei family. Although Sayyid Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr was one of Sayyid Abul Qasim Al-Khoei’s best students, it was his cousin, Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr who fell out with the much older Al-Khoei. Moqtada Al-Sadr is the son of Sayyid Mohammed Sadiq. Sayyid Abdul Majid had been an enemy for the Sadr Movement ever since he left Iraq. Many of the Sadrists regarded him as a traitor who left
In December 2002, Al-Khoei was publicly heckled in
Once in Najaf, Al-Khoei was advised to visit Moqtada Al-Sadr and try to put aside the differences between the two families. Al-Khoei, around 15 years Moqtada’s senior and with more religious credentials, refused to visit him and even referred to him as a “za’toot” (derogative term meaning “child”). From the very first day he arrived to Najaf, he was followed by a large group of men. When warned by his colleagues that he was being followed, Al-Khoei responded by saying they were only trying to intimidate him.
Al-Khoei replied “I am Abdul Majid. What do you want from me?” Kais Al-Jaizany then said “We have to take you to Sayyid Moqtada to see what he has to say about you”
They agreed to go to Moqtada’s office which is less than 100m away from the shrine.
They then took off Al-Khoei's clerical robes as well as his bullet proof vest. Their hands were then tied behind their backs. A clear indication that the Sadrists did not have peaceful intentions.
As they were walking out of the “Killidariya” the men were shocked to find around 200 armed men waiting for them inside the courtyard of the shrine. Some were armed with AK-47’s and pistols, but the vast majority wielded knives, daggers and swords.
They were led out of the office in a straight line with Al-Khoei at the front. One by one, they started to come forward and strike him with their knives and swords. Although he was wearing a black 'dishdasha' it wasn’t hard to tell that he was covered in blood. Sheikh Bilal, a British citizen who was with him at the time, said “At first I didn’t realise he was bleeding, but when I saw his black clothes shining, I knew it was blood”.
In the mêlée and confusion that followed, Ma’ad Fayadh realised his hands had become loose, he managed to escape while everyone else was concentrating on their main targets. The only three people with their hands tied walking behind Al-Khoei at this point were Sheikh Bilal, Hayder Al-Killidar and Hamid Al-Timimi (An American who also came to help Al-Khoei)
Hayder Al-Killidar did not even make the short distance out of the shrine. He was brutally hacked to death inside the courtyard.
Two Sadrists either side of Al-Khoei held him upright and helped him walk while the others would come to slash and stab him. They then reached Moqtada’s office and were crouched on the floor against the wall with their hands still tied behind their backs.
Al-Khoei at this point was bleeding profusely and had difficulty sitting up straight. Clerics kept walking in and out of Moqtada’s office whispering with each other. Sheikh Bilal told them “Cant you see he is going to bleed to death? What do you want from us? This man is going to die, what ever it is you want to do, do it now” at this point a cleric came up to him and slapped him very hard across the face.
Another Sadrist came over next to Al-Khoei saying “Look at you now…In London you were a prince…why did you come back?” Kais Al-Jaizany then came with blood stains all over his clerical robes and walked into the office. He came out soon later and said “The Sayyid [Moqtada] says ‘take him away and kill him in your own special way”
The three men briefly took refuge with the help of an owner of a sewing machine repair shop directly opposite Moqtada’s office and were quickly rushed inside. He took them inside his shop and with the help of his two sons, untied their hands, and gave them some water to drink. Al-Khoei was the only one out of three who couldn’t walk or talk properly and so they had him lie down on his back while they took off his 'dishdasha' and started cleaning the wounds.
Al-Khoei had lost a lot of blood and knew he was not going to live for much longer. He took his ‘aqiq’ ring off his hand and gave it to Sheikh Bilal to return to his family. Breathing slowly, but still conscience he managed to say “Bury me next to my father”
The shop owner in an attempt to get rid of the Sadrists getting louder and louder at his door told them “He is dead, what do you want from him? You have killed him”. A Sadrist outside shouted “We want to come inside and make sure”
The shop owner decided to hide Sheikh Bilal and Hamid Al-Timimi inside a very small closet and he dragged Al-Khoei’s body inside a room and locked the door from the outside. The Sadrists broke the window of the shop and burst into the small shop. They kicked down the door that was locked and dragged the body from his hands. They dragged the body from the shop to the roundabout nearby while continuously stabbing and slashing his body. When they reached the roundabout Al-Khoei was still breathing, so a Sadrist pulled out an AK-47 and killed him with a single shot.
By nightfall everyone who was with Al-Khoei had made it back to the
The men pleaded with the
Meanwhile, the men tried to get help from Ayatullah Sistani. His son told them “The Sayyid [Sistani] is not here”. Of course it had been years since Ayatullah Sistani ever left his house and it was obvious he was lying and did not want to help.
Bearing in mind the crimes were committed in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eye-witnesses, it wasn’t long before the names of the men who were involved began circulating around the city and later even posted on the internet.
The men involved in the murder of Al-Khoei are in two groups. The clerics involved in encouraging the crowds to attack and the men who actually took part in the stabbings. The following names are the Sadrist scholars who either “arrested” the men or encouraged the crowds:
- Sheikh Yassir Saleh Abul Karim Al-Modhafar
- Sheikh Hassan Dakhil
- Sayyid Najah Layij Mohammed
- Sheikh Uday Al-Bahadli
- Sheikh Abdul Sattar Al-Bahadli
- Sayyid Riyadh Al-Noori
- Sayyid Awn Al-Nabi Al-Mousawi
- Sheikh Kais Al-Jaizany
- Sayyid Hazim Al-Mousawi
- Sayyid Abbas Al-Mousawi
- Sheikh Ahmad Al-Shaybani
- Sayyid Ma'an
- Sheikh Mohammed Hayyawi
- Sheikh Mohammed Hassan Al-Amari
- Sheikh Amjad Ashoor Al-Bahadli
These are the men who took part in the actual murder (and what they did):
- Ihsan Al-Ka'by (stabbed him and fired last shot which killed him)
- Fadhil Al-Ka'by (stabbed him)
- Karrar Ali Al-Hakim (stabbed him)
- Ali Kassar (stabbed him)
- Abbas Ali Al-Baghdadi (stabbed him)
- Mahir Ali Al-Baghdadi (stabbed him)
- Ahmad Ayed Al-Baghdadi (stabbed him)
- Ali Al-Nadawi (fired shots into the office)
- Jawad Ma'joona (fired shots, stabbed him and stole his watch)
- Mohsin Ma'joona (fired shots and stabbed him)
- Hussein Jawad Al-A'war (stabbed him)
- Hassan Jawad Al-A'war (stabbed him)
- Saeb Hamoody (stabbed him)
- Samir Al-Hilo (stabbed him)
- Mohammed Hassan Al-Amari (stabbed him)
- Abu Akram (stabbed him)
- Arif Al-Basrawi (stabbed him)
- Najah Al-Majnoon (stabbed him)
Al-Khoei’s body lay lifeless on the street for several hours before his in-law’s family came to wash and bury his body in a special room in the court-yard of the shrine next to his father. A 3-day mourning ceremony was held in Najaf for people to pay their respects to Al-Khoei and another ceremony was organised on the 40th day after his death. Much to the surprise of everyone, Moqtada Al-Sadr himself attended the commemoration. Al-Sadr has denied any involvement in the killing and has even claimed he in fact sent men to help Al-Khoei. He wanted to be seen mourning for Al-Khoei and so attended attended the "fatiha".
As part of an investigation into the murder, Al-Khoei’s body was later exhumed in secret in order to gather evidence and was re-buried in the same place.
A few months later, an Iraqi Investigative Judge Raed Juhi (who was also responsible for the Saddam Hussein case) issued warrants for over a dozen men implicated in the murder. Only of those arrest warrants was never served. It was for Moqtada Al-Sadr. Paul Bremer, the CPA head, claims in his book “My Year in
Raed Juhi, who has received multiple death threats by the Sadrists, has said many times that after he finished his report he came to the conclusion that there is strong evidence implicating Moqtada Al-Sadr in the murder. The other warrants were served and the men were soon arrested by the Iraqi police and imprisoned.
The criminals remained in police custody until just after the December 2005 elections. The United Iraqi Alliance after winning the elections for the second time had to choose a new Prime Minister. The two men who battled for this seat were Ibrahim Al-Ja’fari and Adel Abdul Mahdi. Ibrahim Al-Ja’fari allegedly promised Moqtada Al-Sadr that he would release the prisoners involved in Al-Khoei’s murder and silence the case if the Sadrists would vote for him.
Ibrahim Al-Ja’fari became Prime Minister after winning 64 votes to 63. All the Sadrist MP’s voted for him. Soon after, the prisoners were released and the testimonies of many of the eye-witnesses were deliberately changed in order to make Moqtada Al-Sadr look like an innocent bystander who had no role in the murder.
There are two accounts of how the testimonies were changed. Some say that it was simply edited by the government who removed evidence linking Al-Sadr to the murder and others say the eye-witnesses who testified against Al-Sadr were re-called by an Iraqi judge who read out their testimonies in the presence of high ranking Sadrists. Fearing for their lives, the eye-witnesses then claimed that their original testimonies were false.
Which ever account is true, one thing is for certain…the report submitted to the Iraqi government by Raed Al-Juhi, is not the same report they have now.
Click pictures for caption: