Home | Return

Leading cleric hacked to death in mosque
April 10 2003


A leading Iraqi cleric and a member of President Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Religion were hacked to death by a crowd at a mosque, at Najaf, in southern Iraq today.

The killings occurred at the shrine of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites of Shiite Islam, practised by the majority of Iraqis.

Witnesses told reporters that a meeting was held at the mosque by leading mullahs about how to control the shrine, which has been under the control of Haider al Kadar, a member of President Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Religion.

In a gesture of reconciliation, Mr Kadar was accompanied to the shrine by Abdul Majid al Khoei a high–ranking Shiite cleric and son of a prominent ayatollah who was executed by Saddam.

When the two men appeared at the shrine, members of another faction loyal to a different mullah, Mohammed Braga al Saddar, verbally assailed them, witnesses said.

Mr Khoei pulled a gun and fired one or two shots. Conflicting eyewitness accounts had him firing bullets into the air and into the crowd.

Both men were then rushed by the crowd and hacked to death with swords and knives, witnesses said. An unknown number of people were injured."Al Kadar was an animal," said Adil Adnan al–Moussawi, aged 25, who witnessed the confrontation.

"The people were shouting they hate him, he should not be here."

Mr Khoei is among the most prominent of Iraq's returned exiles. His father was the revered Shiite cleric Ayatollah Abul–Qassim al–Khoi, who was the religion's spiritual leader during a Shiite uprising against Saddam in 1991.

Following the uprising, the son defected to London, where he headed a philanthropic group. He returned to Iraq earlier this month and with other former exiles had been trying to restore order in Najaf, the third–holiest city for the world's nearly 120 million Shiites behind Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

The mosque holds the tomb of the Shiites' most beloved saint, Imam Ali Ibn Abu Talib, the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son–in–law.

With its silver–covered tomb, ceramic–ornamented walls and resplendent golden dome and minarets, the shrine is considered a treasure of Islamic art.

Najaf, whose name in Arabic means "a high land," is about100 miles south of Baghdad on a high desert plateau overlooking the world's largest cemetery, where Shiites aspire to bury their dead.

It is also the seat of the Shiites' spiritual leaders, known as ayatollahs, and the center for scientific, literary and theological studies for the Islamic world.