The head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force has emerged from a lifetime in the shadows to achieve almost celebrity status in Iran, reports BBC Persian’s Bozorgmehr Sharafedin.
UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres started off the year with a warning about the geopolitical tensions, which he said are at their “highest level this century” and continuing to escalate.
“Even nuclear non-proliferation can no longer be taken for granted. This cauldron of tensions is leading more and more countries to take unpredicted decisions with unpredictable consequences and a profound risk of miscalculation,” Guterres said.
Top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani will be buried in his hometown of Kerman this week after a three-day, multi-city funeral procession after his assassination by US drone.
More than a million people flooded the streets across four cities, with crowding getting so bad that dozens of people died in a stampede on Tuesday.
Top Iranian leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani also publicly paid their respects.
The grandeur of Soleimani’s funeral highlights his hero status in the country, and gives a glimpse of how hard Iran is willing to strike back against the US.
On Tuesday Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s security chief, said the country had drawn up 13 options for retaliation against the US, and even the weakest one would be a “historic nightmare.”
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to de-escalate geopolitical tensions on Monday, which he described as being “at their highest level this century” as the new decade dawns.
(CNN)When 31-year-old Maryam Gul laid eyes on the Kaaba this week, it was a moment of complete peace. The cube-shaped structure, and most sacred shrine of Islam, felt a world away from the Linwood mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand where her mother, father and brother were fatally gunned down earlier this year.
“I thought I am looking at a symbol, a symbol of peace. A symbol of God. He’s here,” Gul told CNN.
Gul is one of 200 people who arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia from Christchurch this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday. They are survivors of the March 2019 terror attacks at two Christchurch mosques as well as the relatives of those who were slain in the shootings.
Fifty-one people were killed in the attack by a white nationalist gunman during Friday prayers.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman extended the invitation to the group for the all-expenses-paid pilgrimage in July. CNN’s interviews with Christchurch pilgrims in Mecca were facilitated by the kingdom’s Center of International Communications.
In a statement published by the official Saudi news agency, Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said the state-funded trip was part of the kingdom’s efforts to “confront and defeat terrorism and terrorists.” Christchurch survivors and victims’ relatives say the pilgrimage has been a means to healing from the violence that changed their lives.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has invited about 200 victims’ relatives and survivors of the Christchurch massacre to his country for a holy pilgrimage.
The Saudi king is paying for the airfare, accommodation and travel costs, which could cost over $1 million, as they perform hajj, the holy Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The pilgrimage is required for all able-bodied Muslims to perform at least once in their lifetime, with many believers saving for years to make the trip. The annual pilgrimage draws nearly 2 million Muslims from around the world to Mecca and sites around it.
The Saudi ambassador to New Zealand, Abdulrahman Al Suhaibani, said the king invited the survivors and victims’ relatives because he was shocked by the March 15 attack at two mosques by an Australian white supremacist that killed 51 people.
Among those who have accepted the king’s offer was Temel Atacocugu, a 44-year-old kebab shop co-owner, who was seriously scarred by nine bullets shot by the gunman.
Atacocugu was confronted by the gunman face-to-face during the shooting, with the gunman firing a bullet into Atacocugu’s mouth, shattering his jaw.
“And then I said, ‘Oh my God, I am dying.’ When I see he’s shooting, when I see the smoke, I said, ‘Yeah, I’m dying.’ That’s the first thought,” said Atacocugu, adding that he then began protecting his vital organs as the shooter continued to fire bullets at him.
He said that since the tragedy nearly five months ago and extensive recovery efforts, he now feels “reborn” and welcomes the opportunity to express his gratitude to God for being given the chance for a new life when he participates in the hajj.
In this July 31, 2019, photo, Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times during the Christchurch mosque attacks, tries on the clothes he will wear during the Hajj pilgrimage, in Christchurch, New Zealand. He is among 200 survivors and relatives from the Christchurch mosque shootings who are traveling to Saudi Arabia as guests of King Salman for the Hajj pilgrimage, a trip many hope will help them to heal. (AP Photo/Nick Perry)
The king typically invites several hundred people each year to perform the hajj as his own guests, often picking those most touched by tragedy that year. The ambassador said this was the first time he invited anyone from New Zealand.
Two weeks ago, the ambassador traveled to Christchurch to hand out the simple white garments the male pilgrims will wear. The terry cloth garments worn by men are meant to strip pilgrims down of adornment and symbolize the equality of mankind before God.
“It’s a wonderful time and this is a golden chance for people to get spiritual elevation,” said Gamal Fouda, the imam at the Al Noor mosque, one of the two mosques that were attacked.
Fouda, who also survived the shootings, said he’s traveling with the group as a spiritual leader. He said the memories of the shooting remain fresh in everybody’s minds and his mosque hasn’t yet returned to normal.
“The most important thing is that the New Zealand community, including Muslims, they stood together against hate,” Fouda says. “And we are still saying that hate is not going to divide us. We will continue to love each other.”