Shiite Muslim Leader Assassinated in Najaf
A family friend, who was injured in the attack, told CNN that Abdul Majid al-Khoei was shot inside the mosque and then dragged outside and killed with swords and knives. Al-Khoei had shot a gun in response to yelling by members of a rival Muslim faction, the Associated Press reported.
There were conflicting reports about others killed and injured during the incident.
Al-Khoei arrived in Iraq on April 3 and had urged support for U.S. troops. His father, Ayatollah Abul-Qassim al-Khoei, was a Shiite spiritual leader killed during the failed 1991 Shiite uprising against Saddam. Al-Khoei, who spent 12 years living in exile in London, met with British Prime Minister Tony Blair before leaving for Iraq.
“The very regrettable assassination of a sheik from Najaf, which the United States strongly condemns,” Ari Fleischer said today, “is another reminder of how dangerous the situation is inside Iraq.
“It was dangerous before this military mission. It remains dangerous. We are still in the middle of a military mission. The United States is committed to helping the people of Iraq with their security.”
Al-Khoei was attending a meeting of clerics at the shrine of Imam Ali, one of the holiest sites of Shiite Islam, the religion of the majority of Iraqis.
The meeting of leading mullahs was held to discuss control of the mosque. The shrine had been run by Haider al-Kadar, a member of Saddam Hussein’s Ministry of Religion.
The Associated Press reported that al-Kadar was also killed by the mob, but those reports remain unconfirmed. An Al-Khoei family member told Reuters that an al-Khoei aide was also killed.
Al-Khoei had accompanied al-Kadar to the shrine as a sign of reconciliation between the exiled Shiite leaders and those who had worked with the regime. When they arrived, members of a faction loyal to another mullah, Mohammed Braga al-Saddar, confronted them. In response, al-Khoei reportedly fired shots.
Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the largest Iraqi Shiite exile group based in Iran, announced last week that he planned to travel to Najaf “as soon as possible.”