Powerful Iranian cleric shot dead in attack in bank

Powerful Iranian cleric shot dead in attack in bank

Tehran: A senior Iranian Shia Muslim cleric and member of the powerful Assembly of Experts has been killed in a gun attack in northern Iran.

“Ayatollah Abbas Ali Soleimani was killed this morning in an armed attack… the assailant was also arrested and is now being investigated,” IRNA news agency reported.

Ayatollah Abbasali Soleimani died in hospital after being shot at a bank in Babolsar, in Mazandaran province.

Ayatollah Soleimani was one of 88 clerics on the Assembly of Experts, which appoints the Supreme Leader and can - theoretically - remove him.

He also previously served as the personal representative of the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the restive south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, stepping down in 2019 after 17 years in the role.

Ayatollah Soleimani, who was in his mid-70s, was reportedly sitting inside a branch of Bank Melli in Babolsar on Wednesday morning when he was shot.

Hawzahnews, the official website of Iran's Shia seminaries, cited a witness as saying that a man grabbed a bank guard's gun and opened fire.

But the governor of Mazandaran, Mahmoud Hosseinipour, told state TV that the attacker was a bank guard, according to AFP news agency.

“So far, our information and documents indicate that this was not a security or terrorist act,” it quoted him as saying.