Thousands protest bombing of Shiite mausoleum in Iraq
Updated: 2006-02-22 17:25
Thousands of angry Iraqi Shiites took to the streets of Samarra, north of
Baghdad, after bombers struck one of their most celebrated shrines in an attack
likely to fuel sectarian strife.
An Iraqi Shi'ite carries a weapon
during a protest in Baghdad's Sad'r city February 22, 2006. Bombs wrecked
the dome of a major Shi'ite shrine in the Iraqi city of Samarra on
Wednesday in an apparent sectarian attack that sparked demonstrations and
a call from the top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, for
"suitable" protests. [Reuters]
Waving the green flags of Islam and the national Iraqi colours, thousands
rallied in the centre of Samarra vowing to punish those responsible for
attacking the Imam Ali al-Hadi mausoleum whose golden dome collapsed after two
bombs exploded inside the mosque.
"A group of armed men attacked the mausoleum of Imam Ali al-Hadi at 7:00 am
(0400 GMT), neutralized the policemen guarding the building before placing two
explosives charges and blowing them up," police said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, but angry demonstrators called
for immediate retribution against the bombers, shouting "You will not escape
Shops closed and muezzins recited prayers from the loudspeakers of nearby
mosques and blamed the United States for the turmoil, saying "God is Great,
death to America which brought us terrorism."
Demonstrators carried the turban, sword and shield said to have belonged to
Ali al-Hadi, the 10th Shiite imam, shouting "Iman, we are your soldiers".
Tension spread to Baghdad where many Shiites also gathered outside mosques
and the headquarters of Shiite political parties.
An official close to Shiite radical leader Moqtada Sadr said the army had
turned away young men who had tried to take buses to go to Samarra.
A senior Shiite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Bashir al Najafi, said the
attack was "an odious attack on the heart of Islam and of Iraq and an attempt to
stir up sectarianism," his son, Ali Bashir, told AFP.
The mausoleum to the 10th Shiite imam in the town, is an important pilgrimage
centre for Shiites.
The head of the Sunni religious endowment organisation, Ahmad Abdel Ghaffur
al-Samarrai, immediately condemned the attack, terming it "a criminal act".
The mausoleum which houses the tombs of the 10th and 11th Imams, both sacred
to Shiites and Sunnis, is an important pilgrimage centre for Shiites.
Iman Ali al-Hadi died in 868.
The attack was seen as likely to further raise tension between the majority
Shiite and minority Sunni communities in the country at a time when political
factions bicker over the formation of a 'national unity' government.
The attack came a day after a car bomb killed at least 21 in a mainly Shiite
market of Baghdad and two days after another bomb wounded dozens of Shiite daily
labourers waiting to work in the capital.
The attacks bore the hallmarks of previous strikes by Sunni extremists allied
to Al Qaeda in Iraq on Shiites, who make up 60 percent of Iraq's population and
whose political parties won a majority of parliamentary seats in December