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Crowd Hacks Two Islamic Clerics to Death

Crowd Hacks Two Islamic Clerics to Death

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NAJAF, Iraq (AP) -- A crowd rushed two Islamic clerics and hacked them to death in this holy city Thursday, witnesses said. An unknown number of people were injured.

"People attacked and killed both of them inside the mosque," said Ali Assayid Haider, a mullah who traveled from the southern city of Basra for the meeting.

The accounts could not be independently confirmed.

The killings took place at the shrine of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites of Shiite Islam, practiced by the majority of Iraqis.

Witnesses told reporters visiting the mosque that a meeting was held at 10 a.m. among leading mullahs about how to control the shrine, which has been under the supervision of Haider al Kadar, who was widely disliked because of his role as a member of President Saddam Hussein's Ministry of Religion.

In a gesture of reconciliation, al Kadar was accompanied to the shrine by Abdul Majid al Khoei, a high-ranking Shiite cleric and son of one of the religion's most prominent ayatollas who was executed by Saddam in 1982.

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

Apparently feeling threatened, al Khoei pulled a gun and fired one or two shots. Accounts were conflicting whether he fired the bullets into the air or in the crowd.

Both men were then rushed by the crowd and hacked to death with swords and knives. An unknown number of people were injured.

"Al Kadar was an animal," said Adil Adnan al-Moussawi, 25, who witnessed the confrontation. "The people were shouting they hate him, he should not be here."

Al-Khoei is among the prominent returned exiles. Others are Ahmad Chalabi and Youssef al-Khairallah, a tribal chief.

Al-Khoei arrived in Najaf on April 3. He said then local clerics were attempting to negotiate a deal where Iraqi loyalists would leave the mosque in return for safe passage out of the city. Al-Khoei heads a London-based philanthropic group, and his father was a revered Shiite cleric who died in 1993.

His father, Ayatollah Abul-Qassim al-Khoei, was the Shiite spiritual leader at the time of the 1991 Shiite uprising against Saddam.

Abdel Majid Al-Khoei told The Associated Press recently that he has urged his followers in the Shiite cities to stay at home and let the American troops do the job. He said Saddam's tactics of urban warfare and the use of paramilitary militias made it highly risky for the population to revolt.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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