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Tehran (AFP) – Iran was due to hold a memorial service on Wednesday for a Shia Muslim cleric stabbed to death a day earlier by a suspected Sunni extremist at the revered Imam Reza shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
The main suspect in the bloody attack was named Abdolatif Moradi, 21, an ethnic Uzbek who entered Iran illegally through the Pakistani border a year ago, Tasnim news agency reported.
Moradi had “worked in transport” in a poor area of the city and had been active on social media using pseudonyms including Abdolatif al-Salafi to “spread takfiri ideology and confront the Shia”.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has blamed the stabbing, which injured two other clerics, on the influence of US-based ‘takfiri’ – a term used for Muslims who label others as apostates, condemning them to death and generally referring to Sunni extremists.
Raisi – who once chaired the charitable foundation that runs Imam Reza’s golden-domed shrine – has tasked Iran’s intelligence ministry with investigating the murder of cleric Mohammad Aslani, who held the rank of hojatoleslam.
The attacker struck on the third day of Iran’s holy month of Ramadan as a large crowd of worshipers gathered in the courtyard of the shrine of Imam Reza, one of Islam’s most revered figures Shiite.
Authorities have arrested six suspected accomplices, including the main suspect’s two brothers, after the attack in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city with more than three million people.
The attacker stabbed one of the victims “20 times”, according to the Tasnim report.
square of the martyrs
Flowers were laid at the scene of the attack, in the courtyard of the mausoleum of Imam Reza, the eighth of the 12 holy imams of Shia Islam, Iran’s state religion since the 16th century.
Fars news agency published a photo of the three victims sitting together in Mashhad, naming the two injured clerics only Pakdaman and Daraei.
The memorial service for Aslani was due to take place in the evening, the official IRNA news agency reported. His body will be carried by shrine officials, who will circle the courtyard several times while worshipers read the Koran.
He will be buried Thursday in a square reserved for martyrs in the courtyard of the sanctuary.
The mausoleum’s media chief, who went by the name Mr Rostamzadeh, told AFP that “after the knife attack, the attacker was arrested by security services and 15 minutes later, everything was back to normal.”
“People had absolutely no fear — on the contrary, it sparked religious fervor,” he said. “There were no closures or interruptions.”
“There are many people, the shrine is full of worshipers and pilgrims who attend religious ceremonies, especially during Ramadan.”
The Islamic Republic of Iran has 83 million inhabitants, 90% of whom are Shia Muslims.
© 2022 AFP