Court hears Saddam's cousin ordered 200 executions

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BAGHDAD, Sep 24 (Reuters) Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed ordered guards to execute a group of 200 people as he stamped out a Shi'ite uprising in 1991, a court trying him for crimes against humanity heard today.

A witness told the court the man widely known as ''Chemical Ali'', already sentenced to death in a separate trial and due to be hanged soon, personally oversaw the killing of the first 25.

''People were executed at a sports centre. There were about 200,'' the witness, speaking from behind a curtain, told the court. ''They were executed in batches -- 25 at a time.'' ''Ali Majeed was present for the execution of the first batch and then he told his guards to continue executing the others,'' he said, quoting testimony from one of his two sons who he said were rounded up by soldiers in March 1991.

Majeed is on trial with 14 other defendants, mostly former military commanders, for their role in crushing the Shi'ite rebellion after Iraq's 1991 Gulf War defeat. Prosecutors say up to 100,000 people were killed when the uprising was put down.

They face charges of crimes against humanity, which carry the death penalty. Majeed was sentenced to death earlier this year for masterminding a genocidal campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988 that killed tens of thousands.

An Iraqi appeal court upheld his death sentence on Sept. 4 and under Iraqi law the sentence should be carried out within 30 days of the appeal court ruling.

ANGRY CHALLENGE Majeed shuffled into court today with the aid of a stick, wearing black and white robes and looking gaunt but he angrily challenged the testimony of the witness, saying he was not even in the area when the alleged executions took place.

''How can you say that I executed people?'' he asked. ''You were not there ... How can you be so sure? I wasn't in Basra at all at that time.'' The witness said the killings occurred after tanks and army vehicles surrounded his village near the southern city of Basra on March 15, 1991, shelling houses, looting and rounding up young men.

''One of the boys resisted so they shot him dead. I saw it with my own eyes,'' he said, adding that his two sons were taken away by the army.

One of the sons returned home from detention a month later, telling him about the mass killing and saying that his brother had been executed ''by Ali Majeed''.

Another witness said he and four family members were detained and tortured after they tried to reclaim the body of a relative who had been shot dead by soldiers.

When they were detained, Majeed told the detainees that anyone who identified people who had taken part in the uprising would be released, he said.

''An Egyptian man pointed out my father,'' he said. ''Ali Hassan Majeed took him and four other people away. We heard shots. A guard told me Ali Hassan Majeed had executed my father.'' REUTERS GT RK2237

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