BAGHDAD - The Iraqi journalist who hurled his shoes at President Bush was expected to appear before a judge today in a first step of a complex legal process that could end in a criminal trial, a government official and the reporter's brother said.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi has been in custody since Sunday, when he gained folk-hero status across the Arab world by throwing both shoes at Bush during a news conference. Bush ducked twice during the bizarre assault and was not injured.
Despite widespread sympathy for his act in the region, Iraqi authorities sent the case to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, which handles security and terrorism cases.
An investigative judge will review the evidence and decide whether Zeidi should stand trial - a process that could take months. Iraq officials have recommended charging him with insulting a foreign leader, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment or a small fine.
But investigative judges have sweeping powers under Iraqi law to amend and add charges - or even dismiss the case. If the judge finds enough evidence to warrant prosecution, a judicial panel will appoint three judges to hear the case and set a trial date.
Shiite lawmaker Bahaa al-Araji said he expected Zeidi, who is in his late 20s, to be released on bail in the next few days while the investigative judge considers the case.
Al-Baghdadia television, his employer, said Zeidi would be represented by Dhiaa Saadi, head of the Iraqi lawyers' association.
The head of Jordan's Bar Association, Saleh Armouti, said scores of lawyers have volunteered to help defend Zeidi. The association is dominated by hard-line Muslims and leftists critical of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was standing beside Bush when the shoe attack occurred, issued no statement about how it planned to pursue the case.
Zeidi's brother Maitham said he spoke with the reporter by telephone yesterday and was told that he expected to be in court this morning.
Maitham al-Zeidi also said his brother sounded fit, despite claims by another brother that he had suffered a severe beating after being grabbed by Iraqi security at the Sunday news conference.
"Muntadhar has a broken leg, cracked ribs, some injuries under his eye, and his leg is also hurting him," Zeidi's brother Dhargham told the Associated Press. "He was taken to the hospital today around noon."
Dhargham said his information came from a friend who works as a security guard in the Green Zone, where the shoe-throwing incident took place.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, also denied reports that Zeidi had been badly injured.
"The rumors about al-Zeidi being injured or being hurt are baseless," Khalaf told the AP. "You can check that when you see him in the criminal court tomorrow morning."
In Washington, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said it was up to Iraqi leaders to decide whether punishment was appropriate for Zeidi.
The Unied States set up the Central Criminal Court after the 2003 invasion as the flagship tribunal, granting it nationwide jurisdiction specializing in terrorism cases. However, the court has been widely criticized for failing to meet international standards.