Basra police are chasing down the self-proclaimed prophet, Ahmed al-Hassan, who heads the Ansar al-Mahdi militia in the southern Iraqi city, after bloody clashes between his followers and police left at least 70 people dead.
According to his security file, a copy of which was obtained by AlArabiya.net, Hassan -- nicknamed al-Yamani -- was born in 1968. He studied civil engineering in Basra University, then enrolled in Al-Hawzah Shiite religious institution in Najaf.
Three years ago, he started claiming to be the prophet who is paving the way for the expected Shiite imam, Al-Mahdi al-Montazar, a Messianic figure who Shiites believe will arise shortly before the Day of Judgment to bring justice to the world.
Yamani uses magic and hypnosis to attract followers, who number 500 or more, most of whom are intellectuals, university professors, and Hawzah graduates, Basra Police Chief General Abdul-Jalil Khalaf told AlArabiya.net.
Yamani reportedly tells followers they are soldiers in the Mahdi army that is a prelude to the Mahdi's appearance. He also claims to receive orders from angels and to hold meetings with the Mahdi.
Khalaf, who interviewed many of Yamani's followers after they were arrested, said that Yamani depends on visions.
"One of them said he dreamt of Fatima and al-Hussein [daughter and grandson of Islam’s Prophet], while another said he was visited by Prophet Muhammad and Jesus. All asked Yamani’s followers to follow him."
Star of David
To the surprise of everyone, the group made the Star of David their logo and claimed it will be on the banner of al-Mahdi al-Montazar, called the "Victorious Banner."
According to Khalaf, Yamani says that David is one of God's prophets and that since al-Mahdi is supposed to be the heir of prophets then he should inherit the Star of David as well.
Khalaf added that they are currently hunting Yamani down and stressed that the Iraqi constitution grants all citizens the right to freedom of religion: "If he hadn't taken up arms against the government, we wouldn't have chased him or his followers."
Bloody clashes that claimed the lives of hundreds took place between militiamen from Ansar al-Mahdi and Iraqi security forces on the day of Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of al-Hussein ibn Ali, the prophet's grandson and one of the most revered Shiite Imams.
Security forces overran a mosque in Basra January 19, where Yamani followers were holed up, ending two days of clashes in Basra and Nasiriyah that killed at least 70 people.
Investigations conducted by Basra police revealed that Yamani's ancestry doesn't go back to the prophet.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).