An Iranian pilot has been killed while fighting in Iraq, state media reported Saturday, in what is thought to be Tehran’s first military casualty during battles against Islamic State jihadists.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency did not say whether the pilot died while flying sorties or fighting on the ground.
It said Colonel Shoja’at Alamdari Mourjani was killed while “defending” Shia Muslim holy sites in the city of Samarra, north of Baghdad.
His death comes after Iran’s declarations that it will provide its western neighbour with whatever it needs to counter the Sunni militants who are laying siege to the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The reports of the pilot’s death came as Iranian officials insist their assistance is not in the form of troops, but rather of weapons and equipment if Iraq asks for them.
President Hassan Rouhani vowed last month that Iran, which is predominantly Shia, would protect Shia holy sites in Iraq, including in Samarra.
The Fars news agency appeared to confirm the IRNA report, publishing photos of a funeral service for the pilot Friday in his home province of Fars, in southern Iran.
Meanwhile, jihadists who overran Mosul last month have demolished ancient shrines and mosques in and around the historic northern Iraqi city, residents and social media posts said Saturday.
At least four shrines to Sunni Arab or Sufi figures have been demolished, while six Shia mosques, or husseiniyahs, have also been destroyed, across militant-held parts of northern Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital.
Pictures posted on the Internet by the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group showed the Sunni and Sufi shrines were demolished by bulldozers, while the Shia mosques and shrines were all destroyed by explosives.
Local residents confirmed that the buildings had been destroyed and that militants had occupied two cathedrals as well. “We feel very sad for the demolition of these shrines, which we inherited from our fathers and grandfathers,” said Ahmed, a 51-year-old resident of Mosul.
‘Caliph’ Baghdadi makes first appearance
BAGHDAD: A video posted online Saturday purports to show the leader of the Islamic State delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq, in what would be a rare — if not the first — public appearance by the shadowy militant. “The mujahedeen have been rewarded victory by God after years of jihad.. It is a burden to accept this responsibility to be in charge of you. I am not better than you or more virtuous… And obey me as far as I obey God.” He is dressed in black robes and a black turban, has dark eyes, thick eyebrows and a full black beard. He speaks eloquent classical Arabic, but with little emotion. The Iraqi government said the video was falsified. (AP)