aleppo mosque 88.
(photo credit: )
A Sunni Muslim cleric who in the past has been suspected of recruiting militants to fight in Iraq was shot dead as he left a mosque after Friday prayers in the northern city of Aleppo, aides said.
Mohammed Gul Aghassi, 34, was instantly killed by a gunman who pumped five bullets into his body as he left the Imam Mosque where he regularly preaches after the noon prayers.
The aide, Ahmed Sadeq, told The Associated Press that he pursued the gunman and captured him, handing him over to authorities.
Sadeq accused "terrorists" of killing Aghassi for his "nationalist positions." He did not elaborate.
Sheik Samir Mohammed Ghazal Abu Khashbeh, another aide to the slain cleric, said the gunman fled in a waiting pickup truck and he was chased and arrested along with the driver.
He said two worshippers who happened to be nearby were shot and wounded, one in the leg and one in the pelvis.
Abu Khashbeh said the attacker told him he shot the cleric "because he (Aghassi) was an agent of the Americans."
"The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and has been released some time ago. He is known to us," Abou Khashbeh told AP.
Such attacks are uncommon in Syria, a country where security is generally tight. But Syrian security forces have occasionally clashed with Islamic militants.
Aghassi, also known as Abu Qa'qa', headed a theology school in Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city. Western media in 2005 cited interviews with Sunni insurgents saying that he was a prominent figure in recruiting Arab fighters and helping funnel them into Iraq to fight U.S. and Iraqi troops. Some of the insurgents in the reports raised suspicions he was also informing Syrian security about the movements.
Aghassi denied any links to networks taking insurgents into Iraq.
In June 2006, Syrian anti-terrorism police fought Islamic militants near the Defense Ministry on Friday in a gunbattle that killed five people and wounded four. CD-ROMs of Aghassi's speeches were found on the fighters but the cleric denied then he had any links to that group of extremists.