An angry mob killed a 16-year-old and strung up the body by its feet from a traffic pole after the teenager shot and killed six people, including four anti-government protesters, Iraqi officials said.
Dozens of people pointed their mobile phones at the body dangling high above them in a central Baghdad square. Videos circulating on social media showed the young man being beaten and dragged across the street.
The violence underscored the growing fears and suspicions swirling around the eight-week-old protest movement, which engulfed Iraq on October 1 when thousands took to the streets to decry government corruption, poor services and scarcity of jobs.
A string of mysterious acts of bloodshed by unknown groups has put anti-government protesters on edge and eroded their faith in the ability of state security forces to protect them.
Last Friday, 25 protesters were killed when gunmen in pickup trucks opened fire in Baghdad’s Khilani Square. That same week, mysterious knife attacks targeted over a dozen anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square, the hub of the protest movement.
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 instil fear and weaken their peaceful movement.
Thursday’s bloodshed began when the young gunman opened fire in Baghdad’s Wathba Square, killing two shop owners and four protesters. Security officials said the teenager was wanted by police on drug-related charges and was running from security forces at the time.
An enraged mob beat the young man to death, security and health officials said. At least eight people were wounded, the officials said.
Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr called those who killed the teenager “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.