Rebels blow up shrines of Prophet's companions

BEIRUT: Syrian rebels Wednesday bombed a large Muslim shrine in the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa sparking condemnation from regional heavyweight Iran and its ally Hezbollah.

The shrine of Amm?r ibn Y?sir (great companion of Prophet Muhammad) and Oweis al-Qarani, was a major destination for Muslim pilgrims from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and beyond before it was taken over a year ago by al-Qaeda linked rebels battling to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

One photo posted on Twitter on Wednesday under the heading "the pagan Iranian shrine" showed extensive damage to the exterior walls and roof of the site, a turquoise and white complex of domes and minarets centred around a tiled courtyard.

Another picture showed concrete and twisted metal strewn on the street outside the shrine while another showed an interior wall that had collapsed inward.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the al Qaeda splinter group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had set off two powerful explosions at the shrine early on Wednesday.

Many fighters from ISIL and other radical Sunni Islamist groups in Syria deem shrines as idolatrous, and therefore legitimate targets.

Oweis al-Qarani?, also known as Saint Uwais al-Qarani, was an Arab, Muslim, mystic, martyr, and philosopher from Yemen. He lived during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), but never met Prophet personally. As reported by the renowned historical scholar Ibn Battuta, Uwais was martyred in the Battle of Siffeen as a soldier in Hazrat Ali's army against Muwaya. Muslims built a shrine over Uwais's tomb in al-Raqqah, Syria. 

Amm?r ibn Y?sir was one of the close companions of the Prophet Muhammad, and  occupies a position of the highest prominence in Islam after his conversion to it ever since.

He died fighting alongside Ali against Muawya and was buried in al-Raqqah.

Al-Qaeda-linked groups were also blamed for the bombing and damage to the shrine of Ammar located in al-Raqqah earlier on March 11, 2013.

Rebel groups have also attacked shrines of Prophets companion Hujr ibn Adi's, his grand daughter Syeda Zaynab bint Ali's and Syeda Sakina bint Husain during last two years.

These attacks have stirred fears in neighbouring Turkey that the Islamists' next target will be the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the Ottoman Empire, which lies on the Euphrates river inside Syria but is guarded by Turkish special forces.

Ankara regards the tomb as sovereign Turkish territory under a treaty signed with France in 1921, when Syria was under French rule, and threatened earlier this month to retaliate for any attack on the mausoleum.

President Abdullah Gul said on Sunday Turkey would defend the site in the same way it would defend any Turkish land. "However the motherland is protected, that place will be protected in the same way," he said. --Trans Asia

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