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By Mohamed Osman
Khartoum, Sudan - The kidnappers of a Sudanese newspaper editor slain in September put him on a "trial" before slitting his throat in a style used to slaughter camels, then decapitated his dead body, the justice minister said on Wednesday.
The justice minister said 28 people were being held in connection to the slaying of Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, who was kidnapped months after some accused him of blasphemy for articles many saw as insulting the Islam's prophet Muhammad.
A group claiming to be al-Qaeda's branch in Sudan issued a claim of responsibility for the murder soon after Ahmed's body was found in Khartoum on September 6.
But Justice Minister Mohammed Ali al-Mardi attempted to dismiss that claim in a press conference Wednesday, saying the suspects carried out the killing using the methods of "extremist groups in Iraq so that the thinking would be diverted to Islamist groups in the Sudan."
He said "newspapers bearing photos of (slaughter) operations that were implemented in Iraq were found in the house of one suspect." Al-Qaeda in Iraq has carried out numerous beheadings of hostages in that country.
But al-Mardi refused to give details on the motive in the killing and forbid the Sudanese press from speculating on it - reflecting the sensitivities of the case.
A small group of relatives from Ahmed's tribe protested outside al-Mardi's press conference, angered at his refusal to give details on those arrested in the killing or on their motive. They blocked his car as he tried to leave, shouting "Step down, you failure," until police dragged them away.
Ahmed, the editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Wifaq, was snatched from his home in a northern district of Khartoum by masked gunmen a day before his decapitated body was found. The previous year, Ahmed had sparked controversy when his paper republished an article from the Internet that questioned the parentage of the Prophet Muhammad. Death threats were issued against him by angry Muslims, and the paper was fined by the government.
The editor's captors took him to a house in southern Khartoum, where they put him on "a summary trial," al-Mardi said. He did not specify whether the "trial" was for blasphemy. Kidnappers in Iraq often put their victims on a similar trial, accusing them of being infidels for support of the pro-U.S. government.
Afterwards, Ahmed was tied up and taken to another part of Khartoum. There, "in the presence of several people, including two women," one man stabbed him in the back between the shoulder blades with a knife, causing him to fall forward, then another man slit his throat - a method used in slaughtering camels, al-Mardi said.
The body was then taken to a remote location near a police training field, and the suspects cut off the head, he said.
Police arrested 68 people in the case, but 40 were released for lack of evidence. The remainder are being interrogated and could face trial, he said.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was based in Sudan until the late 1990s when the government threw him out and he moved to Afghanistan. But until the claim in Ahmed's death, no group had announced itself as al-Qaeda's branch in Sudan, along the lines of those in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In an April video, bin Laden pointed to Sudan as a possible front for al-Qaeda attacks. - Sapa-AP