ATHENS — A former deputy to Iran's late leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was briefly arrested during the weekend amid a renewed power struggle in Iran, an Iranian exile group said Tuesday.
The Baghdad-based Moujahedeen Khalq organization said in a statement distributed in Athens that the senior cleric, the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, was arrested Saturday in the holy city of Qom, 75 miles south of Tehran.
He was released hours later after tension built up in the city over news of his arrest, the exile group said. There was no immediate confirmation of the arrest from independent sources, but on Monday, Iran's new spiritual leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Iranians to unite and issued a warning to those causing divisions.
Khamenei, whose message was addressed to the Majlis, or Parliament, and broadcast on Tehran Radio, said he will not tolerate attacks on the principle of rule of the clergy on which the Islamic Republic of Iran was founded.
Khamenei did not indicate who attacked the principle recently, but reports from Tehran said demonstrators in Qom chanted slogans against the principle last week. It was not immediately clear if the demonstrators were Montazeri supporters.
The Moujahedeen, bitter opponents of Iran's ruling clerics, said Montazeri was arrested after he issued strong statements attacking President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khamenei.
The Moujahedeen, who said they received their information from contacts inside Iran, said that supporters of the president and Iran's new spiritual leader staged a demonstration outside Montazeri's house the day before he was arrested.
Montazeri, who was ousted in April as Khomeini's deputy and designated successor just two months before the ayatollah died, was engaged in a power struggle against Rafsanjani and Khamenei at least four years earlier.