Iraqi security forces say they have prevented a sectarian assault by heavily armed militants on pilgrims attending the major shia commemoration at Kerbala. It is believed they were about to attack people attending the Ashura, one of Shia Islam’s most important rites. Huge crowds have gathered for the event around the mausoleum of Imam Hussein at Kerbala.
Baghdad authorities said the fanatical group was headed by a cult leader claiming to be the Mahdi, a descendant of the prophet Muhammad. The leader is believed to have been killed in the fighting along with 300 of his followers as they gathered in orchards in Najaf. Iraqi forces called in American air strikes against the militants. A number of people were arrested.