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Iran: Powerful Senior Shia cleric shot dead

Ayatollah Abbasali Soleimani, a senior Iranian Shia Muslim cleric and member of the powerful Assembly of Experts, has been killed in a gun attack in northern Iran.

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According to state media reports, Soleimani died in hospital after being shot at a bank in Babolsar, in Mazandaran province. The attacker, a local man and bank security guard, has been arrested, although his motive remains unclear.

Soleimani was one of 88 clerics on the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the Supreme Leader and monitors his performance, theoretically having the power to remove him if necessary.

He was previously the personal representative of the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the restive southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, stepping down in 2019 after 17 years in the role.

A hardliner, Soleimani had previously called for gender segregation in all public spaces in the Islamic Republic, including workplaces.

The CCTV footage published by Tasnim news agency appeared to show Soleimani sitting on a chair inside the bank when a middle-aged man carrying what looks like a submachine gun is seen walking up to him from behind before firing a series of shots into his back.

The governor of Mazandaran, Mahmoud Hosseinipour Nouri, said the attacker was one of several armed guards employed by a security contractor to protect the bank. So far, the motive for the attack is unclear, but it was not believed to be a security or terrorist act.

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