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Iraq militants blow up Shiite shrine

The shrine was a memorial to the prophet Seth, who is revered by Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) conduct a patrol looking for militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in a neighbourhood in Ramadi on July 22, 2014. Reuters
Members of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) conduct a patrol looking for militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in a neighbourhood in Ramadi on July 22, 2014. Reuters

MOSUL // Sunni militants from the Islamic State group that controls large parts of Iraq have blown up a Shiite shrine in the city of Mosul, an official and witnesses said Saturday.

The militants destroyed the Nabi Shiyt (Prophet Seth) shrine in Mosul, the de facto Iraqi capital of the “caliphate” proclaimed last month by Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi.

“Islamic State militants stopped people from coming close, set explosives in and around the shrine and then detonated them as a crowd looked on,” one resident who witnessed the demolition said.

Seth is revered in Christianity, Islam and Judaism as the third son of Adam and Eve.

Sami Al Massoudi, the deputy head of the Shiite endowment agency overseeing holy sites, confirmed that militants blew up the Nabi Shiyt shrine and added that they took some of the artifacts to an unknown location.

“These people follow this impossible religious doctrine according to which they must destroy or kill anything or anybody deviating from their views,” he said.

“That simply has nothing to do with Islam.”

The latest destruction comes a day after Islamic State militants completely levelled the reputed tomb of Jonah in Mosul, sparking an outcry among religious officials.

“This most recent outrage is yet another demonstration of the terrorist group’s intention to shatter Iraq’s shared heritage and identity,” the top UN envoy in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said.

Muqtada Al Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose followers have taken up arms to protect endangered holy sites, also condemned the demolition of the shrine.

“He was a prophet for all religions,” Mr Al Sadr said in a statement, adding that the perpetrators of the desecration “don’t deserve to live”.

Sunni and Shiite religious officials have said Islamic State militants had destroyed or damaged dozens of shrines and husseiniyas in and around Mosul since they overran part of the country six weeks ago.

Husseiniyas are Shiite places of worship that are also used as community centres.

Mean, gumen seized and later released a prominent Sunni politician, officials said Saturday, as confusion remained over who abducted the lawmaker.

Riyadh Al Adhadah, head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, returned to his home a day after gunmen abducted him and four of his bodyguards, said Ghalib Al Zamili, a member of the council. The bodyguards also were released, according to a police officer who declined to be named because he is not authorised to brief journalists.

It was not immediately clear if Mr Al Adhdah was arrested by security forces or abducted. In 2012, Mr Al Adhdah, a medical doctor and member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, was jailed for eight months on terrorism charges. He has maintained his innocence.

The incident comes at a time of mounting sectarian tensions, with Sunni militants having seized vast swathes of northern and western Iraq and Shiite militias mobilised to help the beleaguered armed forces fight back. Prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, a Shiite, is looking to secure a third four-year term despite widespread calls to step aside over the crisis.

Earlier Saturday, Mr Al Maliki discussed Mr Al Adhdah’s disappearance with Salim Al Jabouri, the Sunni speaker of parliament. The speaker called the disappearance a “problem” without elaborating. Sunnis long have complained of being unfairly targeted by security forces, and their discontent with Mr Al Maliki’s rule is seen as a central cause of the country’s unrest.

Mr Al Maliki’s security forces have targeted prominent Sunni politicians in the past, alleging links to terrorism. Shortly after the last US troops withdrew in 2011, security forces tried to arrest Sunni vice president Tariq Al Hashemi on terrorism charges, forcing him to eventually flee to exile in Turkey. Mr Al Hashemi, who was later convicted in absentia and sentenced to death, has denied the allegations.

Sunni government officials also have been targeted by Islamic extremists and other Sunni militants, who view them as traitors.

At a news conference Saturday, Baghdad Provincial Council member Falah Al Qaisi called upon the government to “shoulder its security responsibility,” and open an investigation “in order to reveal the circumstances of the incident and ensure (Mr Al Adhdah’s) personal safety.” Mr Al Qaisi did not provide details on who might have seized Mr Al Adhdah.

The provincial councils are the highest of the four tiers of local government in Iraq established following the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former president Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, police said the dead bodies of four men in their 30s were discovered in an eastern suburb in Baghdad. In the town of Taji, north of Baghdad, police say the bodies of five men, including two in military uniform, were found. In all nine cases, the victims’ bodies were bullet-ridden and handcuffed, they said.

The police officers, who declined to be named as they weren’t authorised to speak to journalists, could not provide information on the identities of the victims or the motive surrounding their deaths.

* Agence France-Presse and the Associated Press

Updated: July 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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