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Iranian cleric who helped found Hezbollah dies from coronavirus

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, a Shiite cleric who as Iran’s ambassador to Syria helped found the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah and lost his right hand to a book bombing reportedly carried out by Israel, dies today of the coronavirus. He was 74.

A close ally of Iran’s late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mohtashamipour in the 1970s formed alliances with Muslim militant groups across the Middle East. After the Islamic Revolution, he helped found the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in Iran and as ambassador to Syria brought the force into the region to help form Hezbollah.

In his later years, he slowly joined the cause of reformists in Iran, hoping to change the Islamic Republic’s theocracy from the inside. He backed the opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi in Iran’s Green Movement protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mohtashamipour died at a hospital in northern Tehran after contracting the virus, the state-run IRNA news agency reports. The cleric, who wore a black turban that identified him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, had been living in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, over the last 10 years after the disputed election in Iran.

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