|LAWYERS for Saddam Hussein and his six co-defendants announced yesterday that they would boycott their trial unless the court was moved to another country for their own safety.
Their decision followed the kidnapping and murder last week of Saadoun al-Janabi, the lawyer of Awad Hamed al-Bandar, the former head of Saddam's revolutionary court.
Al-Janabi was abducted less than 36 hours after the opening of the trial on Wednesday and was shot twice in the head.
Last night the defence lawyers issued a statement demanding a full investigation into the killing. "We also announce to the world our decision to boycott the court and now that it is evident to all that there is no security here, we demand that the trials be moved abroad."
Majid al-Saadoun, defending Taha Yassin Ramadan, the former vice-president, said American officials had been notified of the boycott. "We cannot sacrifice ourselves and our families," he said.
The US authorities running the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal offered bodyguards from the interior ministry.
But since the lawyers believe officials from that ministry may have had a hand in al-Janabi's murder, the offer is likely to be declined.
According to witnesses, the kidnappers, dressed in suits and ties, said they were from the ministry. They drove Nissan four-wheel-drive vehicles similar to those used by the Badr Brigade, the Iranian-backed military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the main Shi'ite party.
The defence lawyers' statement said they held the Iraqi government, the Badr Brigade and the Daawa party, another Shi'ite party, responsible for the murder. Al-Janabi's hands had been bound with cuffs made in Iran, they said.
Officials at the interior ministry, which is facing mounting accusations of harbouring death squads that hunt down Sunnis, have denied any involvement.
Saddam's trial was adjourned after three hours on Wednesday and is due to resume on November 28. Already fraught with controversy, the tribunal has been further complicated by the boycott, in particular the prospect of Khalil al-Duleimi, Saddam's chief lawyer, dropping out.
"If you want to execute Saddam then do, but as far as we lawyers are concerned, no trial can be conducted without us," the statement said. "We are men of law who are at liberty to defend any one of them. An accused is innocent until proven guilty."
Ahmad Chalabi, the deputy prime minister, who opposes capital punishment, said it would not be possible to move the trial abroad. "An Iraqi court can only sit in Iraq," he added.
Duleimi said in an interview that he had received numerous death threats, including a recent text message on his mobile phone telling him that he would be beheaded.
He also received an e-mail saying his own "trial" would begin once Saddam's was over.