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Khomeini's Body Falls From Coffin as Frenzied Mourners Tear Shroud

June 06, 1989|From Times Wire Services

TEHRAN — Millions of frenzied mourners carried away with grief tore the white shroud from the body of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, toppling his half-naked corpse to the ground, before the Iranian leader was buried today.

Mourners blocked the path of a van carrying Khomeini's body in an open coffin to the cemetery from the square where it had lain in state for 24 hours in an air-conditioned glass cubicle.

In a scramble for mementos, they grabbed the tightly wrapped white shroud in which Muslims are buried and tore it to shreds.

State television later showed the mourners grabbing the body and pulling the shroud, until the feet could be seen. The broadcast then was cut off abruptly for several minutes.

"The people love the imam too much," a young man said. "They cannot bear to see him buried." He said they wanted pieces of the shroud "as sacred relics."

Son Knocked Down

The coffin was transferred to a military helicopter, but the crowd rushed forward as it tried to land. As the helicopter flew away with the coffin protruding from its open door, the crowd was told that the burial had been postponed.

Three hours later, however, a helicopter landed the rewrapped body in a metal casket. Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khomeini's son, Ahmad, accompanied the body and oversaw the burial.

Ahmad was knocked down in the melee around the coffin and lost his black turban. He looked pale and dazed as he was hoisted above the crowd and passed from hand to hand to an ambulance.

Women clad in head-to-toe black chadors rubbed shoulders with men despite the Islamic prohibition of physical contact between a woman and any man other than her husband.

Firemen sprayed the crowd with jets of water from fire hoses.

Nightlong Vigil at Bier

Most of Tehran's 6 million people appeared to be in the streets, and official media said millions more came from other regions to bid Khomeini farewell. About 2 million mourners had kept a nightlong vigil around the bier in Mousalam Mosque, 22 miles north of the cemetery.

At the Baheshte Zahra cemetery, thousands of Revolutionary Guards and civilians jostled around the grave raising clouds of dust as Khomeini's body was finally laid to rest.

A television announcer, his voice hoarse with emotion, chanted "Father, don't leave your children! Oh father don't leave your beloved!" as the crowd surged toward the grave. People wept and beat their heads and chests with clenched fists in the Shiite Muslim expression of bereavement.

Soldiers passed concrete slabs over the sea of mourners and laid them across the grave, a shallow pit in a 100-square-yard section of the vast cemetery where men who died in the Islamic revolution and the 8-year war with Iraq are buried.

A crane lowered a metal freight container onto the grave to prevent people from grabbing handfuls of dirt from it and possibly unearthing the body.

8 Killed in Crush Monday

Guns roared a last salute to the 86-year-old patriarch who toppled a 2,500-year-old monarchy in 1979 and transformed Iran into a militant Islamic state. For the moment, at least, no special marker was put on the grave.

Eight people were killed Monday in the packed square, some suffocating and others trampled to death. About 500 mourners were injured or collapsed in temperatures of 104.

Khomeini died of a heart attack Saturday, 11 days after intestinal surgery, without settling the question of who would succeed him.

He left a 29-page "political testament," extracts of which his son read on Tehran radio Monday.

It contained an attack on the United States, which Khomeini called the "Great Satan," and said Iran should guard against "conspiracies and plots."

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