4 more killed in Iran in secterian clash

A policeman and three members of an obscure Shiite Muslim cult have been killed and 12 other people injured in fresh clashes in northwestern Iran, AFP reported Wednesday.

According to Hamid Chokri, prefect of the region of Mian-Doab near the city of Mahabad, police seized a "large quantity of firearms and grenades" after they came under attack on Tuesday by members of the group.

Last week news reports said two senior local police officials died in clashes in the same area with a "heretical" group called the Ali-Allahi (roughly meaning "Ali is God").

The group is made up of worshippers of Imam Ali, the figure Shiite Muslims consider the successor of the Prophet Mohammed and their first imam, or spiritual leader. The cult sees Imam Ali as an incarnation of God.

A local official also told AFP the apparent leader of the cult, identified as Said Agha Nazem, was posing as the12 th Shiite Imam, Mahdi, who is known to Shiites as the "hidden Imam" after he disappeared in the year 873AD.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the leader of the sect had apparently fled after the latest violence.

Shiite Muslims believe Imam Mahdi will one day return to earth and bring with him justice and peace. The birthday of Imam Mahdi falls on Friday.

Last week the official news agency IRNA quoted West Azerbaijan province's police chief Ahmad Gheravand as saying that in the past month 10 policemen have been killed in the area, without saying if those deaths were connected with operations against the sect.

In recent months, followers of the Ali-Allahi group have held small protests in Tehran and in the central clerical capital of Qom.