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59 killed as blaze erupts in mosque



Published: Tue, February 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A cloth hung to segregate sexes fed the deadly flames.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A fire raged through a crowded mosque in Tehran during evening prayers Monday after a female worshipper's veil caught the flames of a kerosene heater, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 250, Iran's official news agency reported.

The Arg Mosque was filled with hundreds of worshippers, more crowded than usual because this is the Islamic month of Muharram, a holy period for Shiite Muslims.

Panicked people raced for the doors and smashed windows to escape the blaze, one witness said, leaving burned shoes and women's black chadors scattered in the mosque yard. The mosque walls were charred, carpets were burned and religious books, including the Quran, were destroyed.

Tehran Police Chief Brig. Gen. Morteza Talaie was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency as saying 59 people were confirmed killed and more than 250 people were injured in the fire.

The fire started when the veil of a female worshipper caught the flames of a kerosene heater on the upper floor of the mosque. A large thick curtain then caught fire and dropped onto some of the male worshippers on the ground floor, IRNA reported.

Earlier reports had blamed a faulty electrical outlet, but IRNA said that theory had been discounted. It also said officials had discounted the possibility of a bomb or arson attack.

"Pieces of burning cloth fell on the head of the worshippers, who stopped praying and smashed windows to run out of the mosque in panic," the witness said on condition of anonymity.

The injured, some of them in critical condition, were taken to nearby hospitals. Relatives gathered outside to await news of their loved ones.

Muharram is a month of mourning when Shiite Muslims recall the 7th century death of Hussein, grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Fire broke out at a mosque in central Tehran during Monday evening prayers, killing at least 59 worshippers and injuring more than 250 others, according to the official news agency.

The fire at the Arg Mosque was sparked by an electrical malfunction, according to the report.

Hundreds of worshippers had gathered for evening prayers when the blaze began.

Tehran Police Chief Brigadier General Morteza Talaie was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying the death toll rose to 59 from the earlier report of 25 deaths.

IRNA quoted rescue workers as saying more than 250 people were injured in the fire.

Feeding the fire

IRNA said a long sheet of cloth segregating men from women caught fire and spread quickly throughout the mosque.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze after about an hour, the TV report said, and the injured were taken to nearby hospitals, where some were listed in critical condition.

The neighborhood is near the historic Golestan Palace, where Reza Khan was crowned as Reza Shah Pahlavi in the 1920s.

It also is near Tehran's bazaar, the heart of business in the capital.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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