Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Messianic Shiites slaughtered by American and Iraqi forces on eve of Ashura

More than 300 followers of a Shia Imam, Samer Abu Kamar, who claimed to be the coming Mahdi (islamic Messiah) were killed in a daylong bombardment by U.S. helicopters, jets and armored vehicles near the Iraqi city of Najaf Monday, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Iraqi officials offered conflicting accounts of the identity and motives of the heavily armed fighters, describing them as foreign fighters, Sunni Arab nationalists, loyalists of executed former dictator Saddam Hussein, or followers, known as "Soldiers of Heaven", of a messianic death cult.

Read more about this messianic cult at

The Iraqi forces were prompted to carry out the seige through fear the group, numbering at least 500, was planning to attack a Shiite shrine in Najaf during the Ashura celebrations.

Despite the thwarted attack, bombers struck Shiite worshippers in two cities Tuesday and gunmen ambushed a busload of pilgrims in a series of attacks that killed at least 58 people on the Shiites' holiest day, according to an AP report.

Ashura is marked by Shiite rituals of self-flagellation with whips made of chains and knife blades. These public celebrations were banned by Hussein, and continue to be frowned upon by Sunni Muslims.

Here are some photos of the Ashura rituals:

A Lebanese Shi'a Muslim man slashes the head of a three-year old boy with a razor.

A Shi'a Muslim woman holds her child with a cut forehead

Amal movement members

Read more about the significance of Ashura at



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