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Security officials testify against Iraq's fugitive VP in politically charged terror case
BAGHDAD (AP) ' Police and army officers told a court they found a pistol silencer in the home of Iraq's fugitive vice president as testimony continued Tuesday in a terror trial that has deepened a split in the country's government.
Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politicians, is accused of running death squads made up of bodyguards who allegedly carried out bombings and shootings against Shiites. The Baghdad court hearing the case adjourned Tuesday after hearing a few hours of testimony.
Al-Hashemi denies wrongdoing, saying the charges are part of a political vendetta by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite whom critics accuse of sidelining his Sunni and Kurdish opponents to consolidate power. Some Shiite politicians also are calling for al-Maliki's ouster.
Al-Hashemi is a longtime and vocal critic of al-Maliki, whose government issued a warrant for the vice president's arrest on terror charges the day after U.S. troops left Iraq last December.
Shortly after the warrant was issued, al-Hashemi fled to the Kurdish-run region in Iraq's north. He is currently in Turkey and refuses to return for the trial.
Tuesday's witnesses, three police and two army officers, said they raided al-Hashemi's Baghdad home in April after he fled and found a silencer for a pistol. A separate raid in February on the home of his son-in-law and office manager, Ahmed Qahtan, turned up another silencer, they testified.
In earlier testimony, al-Hashemi's former bodyguards had told the court that Qahtan gave to them guns with silencers and told them to assassinate an army brigadier general. Qahtan also faces terror charges.
So far, al-Hashemi's defense lawyers have not presented their case or called witnesses. However, his defense team was back on Tuesday after walking out in protest in the second court session late last month, citing judicial bias.
The next court session is scheduled for July 8.
Also Tuesday, police and health officials said three federal policemen were fatally shot at a security checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul, located 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad. The attackers fled before they could be captured, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.