Iraqi court decides to hang al-Qaida murder suspect

BAGHDAD -- An alleged al-Qaida in Iraq member should be hanged for his role in the 2006 kidnapping, torture and execution of two American soldiers, an Iraqi court decided Tuesday.

Ibrahim Karim al-Qaraghuli was found guilty of the murders by a three-judge panel in Iraq's Central Criminal Court in Baghdad after a three-hour trial. Two others accused of participating in the killings, Whalid Khalid al-Kartani and Kazim Fadhil al-Zowbai, were found not guilty for lack of evidence.

It wasn't clear when the two might be released or whether they could be tried again if new evidence emerges. Officials also couldn't say how long it might be before Qaraghuli is executed. He has 30 days to appeal the verdict, said Hugh Geoghegan, a spokesman for the United States' Law and Order Task Force in Iraq.

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston and Pfc. Thomas Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were captured after a firefight near Baghdad on June 16, 2006. Searchers found their badly mutilated bodies three days later. A third soldier, Spc. David Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died during the gun battle.

U.S. forces arrested the three alleged al-Qaida in Iraq members between July 2006 and July 2007. They eventually were charged with the soldiers' murders under Iraq's civilian anti-terrorism law.

Tuesday's verdict was unanimous. The suspects, all middle-aged Iraqis, have denied involvement in the soldiers' killings.

Physical evidence against Qaraghuli appeared to be the reason that he was convicted. Investigators have said they found his fingerprints on a truck that was used to drag Menchaca and Tucker through the streets after they were kidnapped. Iraqi villagers who witnessed the dragging gave statements connecting the other two suspects to the killings, but none of the witnesses showed up to testify Tuesday, Geoghegan said.