Holy Warriors Murder Students at "Immoral Picnic"
The students had begun to lay out their picnic in the spring sunshine when the men attacked.
“There were dozens of them, armed with guns, and they poured into the park,” Ali al-Azawi, 21, the engineering student who had organised the gathering in Basra, said. “They started shouting at us that we were immoral, that we were meeting boys and girls together and playing music and that this was against Islam. They began shooting in the air and people screamed. Then, with one order, they began beating us with their sticks and rifle butts.” Two students were said to have been killed.
Standing over them as the blows rained down was the man who gave the order, dressed in dark clerical garb and wearing a black turban. Ali recognised him immediately as a follower of Hojatoleslam Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia cleric. Ali realised then that the armed men were members of Hojatoleslam al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, a private militia that fought American forces last year and is now enforcing its own firebrand version of Islam.
The picnic had run foul of the Islamist powers that increasingly hold sway in the fly-blown southern city, where religious militias rule the streets, forcing women to don the veil and closing down shops that sell alcohol or music. ...
One brought a video camera to record the sinful spectacle of the picnic, footage of which was later released to the public as a warning to others. It showed images of one girl struggling as a gunman ripped her blouse off, leaving her half-naked. “We will send these pictures to your parents so they can see how you were dancing naked with men,” a gunman told her. Two students who went to her aid were shot — one in the leg, the other twice in the stomach. The latter was said to have died of his injuries. Fellow students say that the girl later committed suicide. Another girl who was severely beaten around the head lost her sight.
Far from disavowing the attack, senior al-Sadr loyalists said that they had a duty to stop the students’ “dancing, sexy dress and corruption”.
“We beat them because we are authorised by Allah to do so and that is our duty,” Sheik Ahmed al-Basri said after the attack. “It is we who should deal with such disobedience and not the police.”