The Iraqi government announced a total curfew for war-torn Baghdad until early this morning after gunmen murdered the brother-in-law of the judge in Saddam Hussein's genocide trial and as al-Qaeda threatened to plunge Iraq into even greater bloodshed.
"The government has decided to enforce a curfew on vehicles and individuals starting from Friday evening until 6am on Sunday morning," read a message broadcast by state broadcaster Iraqiya.
There was no word on why the city's nightly curfew had been extended, but it came at a time when US and Iraqi troops are engaged in a large-scale security operation to rid Baghdad of insurgents, militias and sectarian death squads.
A spokesman for the Iraqi government told AFP an unidentified gang had opened fire late on Thursday on a car carrying members of the judge's family in western Baghdad.
It was not immediately clear whether the relatives fell victim to a targeted assassination designed to intimidate Judge Mohammed al-Oreibi al-Khalifa or simply to a bitter civil conflict that claims around 100 lives per day.
"They killed the man and injured his son, who is now in a hospital," said Iraqi Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf, the spokesman of the interior ministry.
Earlier, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh had said that the son had also been killed.
Dabbagh maintained that he didn't expect the attack to affect the trial.
"The court is totally independent but we don't have any information that the judge will drop out. He's continuing as far as I know. I talked with him and he is continuing with the job," he said.
Kadhim Abdallah Hussein and his son, who are Shiites, had gone back to their house to collect possessions they left behind when they had been forced to move from the mostly Sunni neighborhood.
"They had been threatened and moved away," Khalaf confirmed.
All across Baghdad and in nearby provinces, the sectarian war engulfing the country is forcing people to move out of neighborhoods for fear of their lives.
Judge Khalifa is presiding over the trial of ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who has been charged with genocide during the 1988 Anfal campaign against the country's Kurdish minority.
Throughout the legal proceedings against the former leader, lawyers acting for both the defense and prosecution have been intimidated, and some members of Saddam's team have been murdered.
Saddam was thrown out of court on Tuesday for the third successive day of hearings, prompting a revolt among the defendants. The trial resumes on Oct. 9.
Thursday's killings came after the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq released a recorded message on the Internet in which he threatened a new "all-out offensive" against Iraq's US-backed government.
In the recording, which appeared on the Internet and could not be verified, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer also called on Muslim biological and nuclear scientists to join the struggle against Iraq's "occupier."
Muhajer called on insurgents to kidnap Western Christians to put pressure on Washington to free Egyptian religious leader Omar Abdul Rahman, who was jailed for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
The announcement came during the first week of Ramadan. Before prayers began, two policemen were killed in clashes with armed men in the restive southern neighborhood of Dura, while a pair of bombs exploded in the once-peaceful middle-class neighborhood of Karrada, wounding 11.