January 1, 2009 in Nation/World

Iraqi police arrest Shiite cult leader, members

By Kimi Yoshino Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD – Iraqi police on Wednesday announced the capture of a Shiite cult leader and four followers who they suspect were planning to attack worshippers celebrating a major Shiite holiday next week.

The suspects from the group Heaven’s Army were detained Tuesday a few miles east of Basra after authorities learned they would be in the area, a Basra police official said.

As many as 250 members of the cult died in January 2007 on the Shiite holiday of Ashura, when they fought with the military and police after staging an attack in the holy city of Najaf.

Arshad Dayem, a leader of the group, was among those arrested, the police official said.

Police said they confiscated maps and compact discs revealing plans to attack pilgrims in Basra, Karbala and elsewhere in Shiite-dominated southern provinces. Thousands of pilgrims are en route to Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf and Samarra for the holiday that falls on Jan. 7 this year.

In the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday, a candidate in the upcoming provincial elections was assassinated.

Police officials said that the Sunni candidate, Muwafaq Al-Hamdani, with the “Iraq is Ours” slate, was walking in the city center when gunmen opened fire, killing him immediately.

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