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Last Updated:  Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Murdered cleric's life of exile
Tony Blair and Majid al-Khoei
Majid al-Khoei met Tony Blair before leaving for Iraq
A Shia religious leader who was killed in Iraq on Thursday had only returned seven days earlier after living in exile for more than a decade.

Leading Muslim cleric Majid al-Khoei, a 41-year-old father-of-four, flew back to Iraq last week after spending 12 years in Kilburn, north-west London.

He returned to his homeland to reassure hundreds of his followers that US forces were not going to occupy or destroy Najaf's most sacred shrine, the tomb of Imam Ali.

Al-Khoei, who met Tony Blair for talks before his departure, arrived in Iraq on 3 April.

He had fled the country following a failed uprising in 1991 in which many of his relatives were killed.

Speaking from Iraq a few days ago, he told The Times newspaper: "I spoke to the crowd through a microphone and on the town's local radio, telling them to calm down.

It took me hours to walk through the town today, seeing old friends and shaking everyone's hand
Majid al-Khoei

"I said that I was an Iraqi who had been forced to leave for London, but I had returned - a sign that things were now getting better and were safe."

He continued: "It took me hours to walk through the town today, seeing old friends and shaking everyone's hand.

"The first question everyone asked was, 'Could I help get them water and electricity?' I liaised with the Americans on that.

"Then they all wanted news on Baghdad because they see that as the key test to whether this will be 1991 all over again."

Coalition volunteers

Al-Khoei was the son of the Grand Ayatollah Abdul-Qasim, who was the highest Shia religious authority in Iraq.

Several other Iraqi exiles living in north London gave up their jobs to help in Iraq.

A spokesman for the al-Khoei Foundation in Queen's Park, north-west London, said about 200 Iraqis volunteered for the 15 places its organisation was given for people wanting to work with the coalition forces in Iraq.

BBC London's Darshna Soni
"His death has been greeted with shock and sadness"

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