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Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
Iranian serial killer hanged
Saeed Hanaie surrounded by police and reporters. Picture: Iranian Students' News Agency
Hanaie said he was on a divine mission
A man convicted of murdering 16 prostitutes in the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad has been hanged after the Iranian Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence.

Iranian women
All the victims were strangled with their own headscarves
Saeed Hanaie, a 40-year-old builder, had confessed to killing the women, all aged between 25 and 50, but said he was carrying out the will of god.

Hanaie told the court he had picked up victims on the streets of Mashhad - one of the country's holiest cities - and taken them back to his home whenever his wife and three children were away.

All the victims were strangled with their own headscarves and their bodies wrapped in their chadors, or veils.

Hanaie was hanged at dawn in a small inner courtyard of the Mashhad prison.

Contrary to the custom under Islamic law, neither his family nor relatives of the victims were present. But reporters and photographers were later allowed to see the body.

'Divine mission'

In a final interview Hanaie showed no remorse for what he had done.

Iran map

He said that for him killing the women was like stepping on cockroaches.

Hanaie said he was on a divine mission to clean up the area around the holy shrine of Mashhad, which is a magnet for masses of Shia Muslim pilgrims among whom the prostitutes were plying their trade.

He said he believed that God approved of his actions.

The killings were dubbed the "spider murders" by people who thought the killer used headscarves to ensnare the women in the same way that a spider uses a web to trap its victims.

Before Hanaie's arrest in July last year, Iranian police rounded up about 500 prostitutes in Mashhad to protect them from the killer.

The murders baffled detectives for more than a year and received widespread coverage in the Iranian media.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent says the nature of the crime made it a particularly sensitive one, and the execution - unusually - was not carried out in public.

Our correspondent says that Hanaie's actions to root out vice have met approval in some quarters where he was seen as something of a folk hero.

Prostitution and drug-taking were banned after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but have become more common in recent years. The victims were said to have been drug users.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"The murders were known as the 'spider killings'"
See also:

28 Jul 01 | Middle East
Iran's spider murderer 'confesses'
16 Apr 01 | Middle East
Iranian MPs act on prostitute killings
08 Jan 01 | Middle East
Party-goers arrested in Iran
17 Oct 00 | Middle East
Rape and murder on rise in Tehran
14 Dec 00 | Middle East
Iran's girl runaways
06 Jul 00 | Middle East
Drugs and prostitution 'soar' in Iran
20 Mar 02 | Middle East
Tackling Aids in Iran
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