A Syrian cleric who recruited young Muslims to fight U.S.-led forces in Iraq was assassinated in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday, his aides said. Sheikh Mahmoud Abou al-Qa'qa was shot dead after he emerged from Friday prayers, they told Reuters.
"A man fired several bullets into the Sheikh's chest. A crowd chased him and he was eventually caught. He is now with the authorities under custody," said Ahmad Haidar, one of the aides to the young cleric. "Sheikh Qa'qa died in hospital. His killers do not want Muslims to unite."
Syrian sources said the killer was in his 20s.
Qa'qa had thousands of followers and operated from Aleppo. He had called for jihad to counter U.S. policies against Syria.
Qa'qa disappeared from Aleppo last year. He returned this year and became head of a religious school. He led prayers at a mosque in the northern part of the city.
"I challenge anyone to prove that I had ever called for unlawful resistance or indiscriminate violence against any country," Qa'qa once said. "Our hearts are filled with joy when we hear about any resistance operations in Iraq against the American invaders. We ask people to keep praying to God to help achieve victory for Iraq against the US," Qa'qa was quoted as saying late 2003 by The Christian Science Monitor.
He also called for an Islamic state based on sharia law in Syria.