Hizbullah 'mentor' Fadlallah dies


Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shia Islam's highest religious authorities and an early mentor of Hizbullah, died in a Beirut hospital this morning, his family said.

Ayatollah Fadlallah, who was 74, had a wide following beyond Lebanon's Shia, extending to Central Asia and the Gulf.

He had been too frail to deliver his regular Friday prayers sermon for several weeks. He was taken to hospital on Friday suffering from internal bleeding.

Ayatollah Fadlallah was a supporter of Iran's Islamic Revolution and the spiritual leader and mentor of the Hizbullah when it was formed after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, though he later distanced himself from its ties with Iran.

He survived several assassination attempts, including a 1985 car bomb which killed 80 people in southern Beirut.

US news reports said the attack was carried out by a US-trained Lebanese intelligence unit after attacks on US targets in Lebanon.

He distanced himself from the abduction of Westerners by Islamic militant groups in Lebanon during the 1980s, saying he was against kidnappings, and repeatedly called for their release.

Hizbullah's al-Manar television interrupted its programmes to broadcast recitations from the Koran and showed a picture of the white-bearded cleric.

A fierce critic of the US, which formally designated him a terrorist, Ayatollah Fadlallah used many of his Friday prayer sermons to denounce US policies in the Middle East, particularly its alliance with Israel.

In his final sermon, delivered by a deputy on Friday, he condemned Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and criticised the US for "giving cover to the enemy (Israel)."

He was known in Shia religious circles for his moderate social views, especially on women.

He issued several notable fatwas, or religious opinions, including banning the Shia practice of shedding blood during the mourning ritual of Ashura.

Ayatollah Fadlallah was born in 1935 in the Iraqi city of Najaf, where he studied before moving to Lebanon in 1966.