Father of abducted Iraqi activist gunned down after campaigning for justice

Jasb Hattab Aboud spent months trying to prosecute the head of an Iran-backed militia for abducting his son

FILE - In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Jasb Hattab Aboud, father of the kidnapped protester Ali Jasb, cries as he holds his son's picture in his home un the town of Amara,Iraq.   Aboud was shot to death Wednesday, March 10, 2021, a human rights monitor and security officials said. Jasb Hattab Aboud died of a gunshot wound to the head at 6 p.m. in the southern city of Amara, said Ali al-Bayati, a spokesman for the semi-official Independent Human Rights Commission and a security official. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

The father of a missing Iraqi anti-government activist who waged a public campaign to bring to account a militia suspected of abducting his son was shot and killed on Wednesday, a human rights monitor said.

Jasb Hattab Aboud died of a gunshot wound to the head at 6pm in the southern city of Amara, said Ali Al Bayati, a spokesman for the semi-official Independent Human Rights Commission.

Mr Bayati and a security official said preliminary investigations were under way and that more details would be forthcoming. Authorities did not identify the culprit.

Aboud was vocal in his search for his son Ali Jasb, a lawyer and one of several activists who vanished at the height of Iraq's mass anti-government demonstrations in October 2019.

He 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, fearing reprisal if they spoke out.

In an interview with the Associated Press last year, Aboud was asked if he was worried that his public campaign was dangerous.

"I am afraid," he said. "But I lost what was most valuable to me, so I've got nothing else to lose."

Jasb’s kidnap took just 30 seconds.

A woman emerged from a dimly lit street in the city of Amara, her face hidden in a black abaya, and greeted Jasb. Almost immediately, a black SUV pulled up, two men forced him in and sped away.

The woman climbed into a waiting pick-up truck and left.

The final sighting of the 21-year-old Jasb was captured by a surveillance camera at 6:22 pm on October 8, 2019.

Nothing has been heard from him or his captors.

Jasb came to symbolise the campaign of terror waged by militias, who are 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.

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 Baghdad to meet his lawyer. Always, he carried the documents that he believed would deliver justice in a court of law.

The Associated Press followed Aboud’s attempts to push a criminal case against the powerful commander of Ansar Allah Al Awfia, one of the more extreme pro-Iran militias.

The militia was incorporated under the state-sponsored umbrella group, the Popular Mobilisation Forces, created to fight 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.

Last September, Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi visited Missan and met Aboud.

During the 15-minute meeting, Aboud laid out the court documents and named the militia he believed had taken his son.

He told AP that Mr Al Kadhimi was shocked. “He put his hand to his chest and promised he would deliver him to me.”

On Thursday, EU ambassador to Iraq Martin Huth posted Aboud's photo with the caption: "Pope gone. Back to normal?"