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Baghdad mob kills teen and strings up his corpse

Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)
Anti-government protesters gather in Tahrir Square during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BAGHDAD – The body of a 16-year-old boy was hung from a traffic pole in a central Baghdad square Thursday, amid conflicting versions about how he was killed.

Security officials said the teen was wanted by police on drug-related charges and was running from security forces.

Other officials said the teen had fired a pistol in the air in an attempt to get protesters -- who he felt were causing a disturbance -- to move away from around his home.

The Associated Press initially reported that Iraqi officials, who frequently speak on condition of anonymity because of regulations, said the boy shot and killed six anti-government protesters before he was killed. The AP has found no evidence to support these initial claims.

Some videos circulating on social media showed the young man being beaten and dragged across a street. Other videos showed security forces with pointed guns surrounding a house where the teen had purportedly taken cover.

Dozens of people pointed their cellphones at the body dangling above them.

The violence underscored the growing fears and suspicions swirling around the 8-week-old protest movement, which engulfed Iraq on Oct. 1 when thousands took to the streets to decry government corruption, poor services and scarcity of jobs.

A string of mysterious attacks, including shootings and stabbings, by unknown groups has put anti-government protesters on edge and eroded their faith in the ability of state security forces to protect them.

In recent days, abductions and assassinations of high-profile civil activists have stoked paranoia among demonstrators. Protesters largely blame Iran-backed militias for the attacks and see the violence as a campaign to instill fear and weaken their peaceful movement.

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called those who killed the teen “terrorists” and warned that if they were not identified within 48 hours, he would order his militia to leave the square. Members of Saraya Salam, or Peace Brigades, are deployed in the square to protect protesters. Protesters refer to them as the “blue hats.”

The killing of the teenager was condemned by the wider protest movement in Tahrir Square, which said in a statement that the perpetrators were not part of their peaceful demonstrations.

“We can’t allow the image of our pure revolution to be distorted, so we declare that we are innocent as peaceful demonstrators to what happened this morning in Wathba Square,” the statement said.

Separately, security and health officials said a suicide bomber blew himself up near the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, killing seven fighters from a paramilitary group and wounding six. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the attack occurred in a camp belonging to the Saraya Salam group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack Thursday night.

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This story, originally published Dec. 12, 2019, has been corrected. The Associated Press, citing Iraqi officials, erroneously reported that a 16-year-old had shot and killed six people, including four anti-government protesters, before he himself was killed and hanged from a traffic pole in a Baghdad square. The AP has found no evidence to support the initial claims that the teen had committed killings before being killed.