Iraq has executed three people convicted in a 2016 bombing case involving the ISIL (ISIS) armed group that killed hundreds of people.
The office of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said on Monday that the hangings were carried out on Sunday night and Monday morning, but did not name those executed or provide details about when they were sentenced.
The attack took place early on July 3, 2016, in Baghdad’s Karrada shopping area when it was filled with people in advance of the Eid al-Fitr festival at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The car bomb killed a limited number of people, officials said at the time, but it caused flames that spread and trapped people inside shopping centres that lacked emergency exits.
By the time the fire was put out, 323 people had died, making it one of the deadliest attacks to ever hit Iraq and one of the world’s deadliest attacks since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Police Major-General Talib Khalil Rahi said at the time that the bomber’s minibus had been loaded with plastic explosives and ammonium nitrate. Some of the dead could not be identified due to the intensity of the raging fires.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ghabban resigned in the wake of the blast.
Al-Sudani’s office said in its statement that the prime minister met the victims’ families following the hangings and informed them that “the rightful punishment of death sentence was carried out against three key criminals found guilty of their involvement in the terrorist bombing”.
Amid instability in Iraq, ISIL overran large territories in the north and west of Baghdad in 2014.
Iraqi forces had regained significant parts of the country’s lost territory from ISIL by the time the bombing took place, with the attack seen as ISIL targeting civilians in response.
A large military campaign backed by a US-led armed coalition ensued, and the Iraqi central government declared victory against the group in late 2017.
The United Nations estimated in a report in March that ISIL still has “5,000 to 7,000 members and supporters” across Iraq and neighbouring Syria, “roughly half of whom are fighters”.
Remaining cells affiliated with the group continue to target security forces and civilians in both countries, but the UN report said ISIL has been much depleted by “sustained counterterrorism operations” on both sides of the border.
The government announced in October 2021 that it had arrested one person outside the country it said was the main suspect behind the Karrada blast. Then-Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi identified the man as Ghazwan Alzawbaee and said “many others” were suspected in the case.
The AFP news agency quoted an unnamed government source as saying Alzawbaee was one of the three who were hanged.
Iraqi authorities also announced on Monday that they arrested three ISIL members in Baghdad.
The suspects were not identified, but Iraqi military intelligence said they had confessed to being members of the group and had been handed over to the judiciary.
Over several years, Iraqi courts have handed down hundreds of death sentences as well as life imprisonment under the penal code for membership in “a terrorist group”.
Iraq executed at least 11 people in 2022, which was fewer than the US, and sentenced at least 41 to death, according to Amnesty International.