BAGHDAD, May 23 An Iraqi court on Sunday sentenced an Al Qaeda militant to death for the kidnapping and murder of five Russian diplomats in June 2006, a judicial official said.

The unnamed man, the first to be convicted in connection with the killings, was handed down the sentence at Karkh criminal court in west Baghdad.

“The conviction was made according to anti-terrorism laws, over the kidnap and murder of five Russian employees working for the embassy of their country in Baghdad,” a judicial official said.

“It was a heinous crime against diplomats. Their aim was to force countries to withdraw their embassies from Baghdad, as Al Qaeda and other extremist terrorist groups were seeking to do.” The official added that the five had all either been killed by gunfire or had their throats cut.

Russia's ambassador to Baghdad, Valerian Shuvaev, welcomed the verdict, but said the bodies of the diplomats had yet to be found.

“This is the first person who was convicted for the case, maybe there are others,” Mr Shuvaev said.

“We have pressed Iraqi and American authorities, our partners, to help us, to make this story clear and to find the bodies of our colleagues - they have still not been found.”

Four of the embassy employees - Fyodor Zaytsev, Rinat Aglyulin, Anatoly Smirnov and Oleg Fedosseyov - were abducted when gunmen attacked their vehicle in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Mansur on June 3, 2006.

Moscow confirmed their deaths around three weeks later after an Internet video purportedly showed two of the men being executed.

A fifth diplomat, Vitaly Titov, was killed during the kidnapping.

The killings, which were claimed at the time by an insurgent group led by Al Qaeda, prompted condemnation from many countries, including the United States and the European Union.

The hostage-takers gave Moscow a 48-hour ultimatum to pull out of Russia's war-torn province of Chechnya and free Muslim prisoners, although Chechen rebels said they had nothing to do with the militant group in Iraq.

The head of Russia's FSB intelligence service at the time offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the elimination of those who killed the embassy employees.—AFP

Updated May 24, 2010 12:00am

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