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Mourning saint’s death, Middle East Shiites bloody selves with chains

Ashura marked from Iran to Lebanon with battle reenactments, mass prayers, and other acts of lamentation

  • Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves as they mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Iraq's southern city of Basra.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar MOHAMMED ALI)
    Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves as they mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Iraq's southern city of Basra.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar MOHAMMED ALI)
  • Thousands of Shiite Muslims take part in Ashura mourning at Imam Hussein's shrine in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on September 20, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
    Thousands of Shiite Muslims take part in Ashura mourning at Imam Hussein's shrine in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on September 20, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
  • Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves as they mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Lebanon's southern town of Nabatieh.(AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)
    Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves as they mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Lebanon's southern town of Nabatieh.(AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)
  • Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar HAMDANI)
    Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar HAMDANI)
  • Iranian Shiite Muslims burn a tent during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations (AFP PHOTO / STR)
    Iranian Shiite Muslims burn a tent during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations (AFP PHOTO / STR)
  • Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar HAMDANI)
    Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Najaf.(AFP PHOTO / Haidar HAMDANI)
  • Iranian Shiite Muslims watch during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations marking the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.(AFP PHOTO / STR)
    Iranian Shiite Muslims watch during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations marking the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.(AFP PHOTO / STR)
  • Iranian Shiite Muslims watch during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations marking the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.(AFP PHOTO / STR)
    Iranian Shiite Muslims watch during the reenactment of the Battle of Karbala, in Tehran on September 20, 2018, during the annual Ashura commemorations marking the killing of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.(AFP PHOTO / STR)
  • Shiite pilgrims take part in a ceremony during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Karbala.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
    Shiite pilgrims take part in a ceremony during the ten-day mourning period leading up to Ashura, on September 19, 2018 in Iraq's holy city of Karbala.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)
  • Lebanese Shiite Muslims take part during Ashura, in the capital of Beirut, on September 20, 2018, as they mourn the 7th-century slaying of Prophet Muhammed's grandson Imam Hussein.
(AFP PHOTO / STR)
    Lebanese Shiite Muslims take part during Ashura, in the capital of Beirut, on September 20, 2018, as they mourn the 7th-century slaying of Prophet Muhammed's grandson Imam Hussein. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

TEHRAN, Iran — Shiites across the Middle East on Thursday marked Ashura, an annual commemoration mourning the 7th century death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, one of Shiite Islam’s most beloved saints.

For Shiites, who represent over 10 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, the remembrance of Hussein is an emotional event that sees many believers weep over his death at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. Some beat their backs with chains, flagellating themselves in a symbolic expression of regret for not being able to help Hussein before his martyrdom.

But the commemorations can prove tempting targets for Sunni extremist groups, who view Shiites as heretics.

In Iran, the Mideast’s Shiite power, groups of men beat their backs with chains in Tehran. Other mourners beat their chests while carrying black, green and red flags. State television showed similar mourning ceremonies across the country.

Shiite Muslims flagellate themselves as they mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Lebanon’s southern town of Nabatieh. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)

For Iranians, this Ashura comes as the United States is re-imposing sanctions on Iran previously lifted by its nuclear deal with world powers.

Hussein “insisted on the truth until the end,” said Milad Ghodrati, 36, of Tehran. “He lost everything to defend the truth.”

In the Iraqi city of Karbala, hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered around Imam Hussein’s shrine, chanting and striking themselves in rhythm to an imam calling out over loudspeakers. Many pressed up against the mausoleum holding his remains, reaching out to touch it.

Lebanese Shiites also went out on the streets. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave one of his traditional Ashura speeches, saying on Thursday that the terror group now possesses “highly accurate” missiles despite Israeli attempts to prevent it from acquiring such weapons.

Shiite Muslims take part in a flagellation ceremony to mark Ashura, on September 20, 2018 in Lebanon’s southern town of Nabatieh. (AFP PHOTO / Mahmoud ZAYYAT)

In neighboring Pakistan, paramilitary troops, police, and intelligence agents fanned out to protect mourners’ processions. Authorities cut mobile phone services in major cities holding commemorations for fear of militant bombings. Motorbikes were stopped from carrying multiple passengers to prevent drive-by shootings. Some mourners there sliced their backs with knives to express their grief.

Turkish Shiite men take part in a religious procession held for the Shiite religious holiday of Ashura on September 20, 2018, in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL)

Battered by brazen and deadly attacks by an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, minority Shiites stationed heavily armed guards at their mosques Thursday. Police also were on hand.

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul’s police chief, said large vehicles, including trucks and SUVs, were banned from streets where mosques are located to prevent car bombs.

Thousands of Shiite muslims take part during the Ashura in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on September 20, 2018, which marks the peak of Ashura. Arabic on the flag reads: “Oh, Hussein.” (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE)

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