DAMASCUS, Syria – The spiritual leader of a small, radical Iraqi opposition party who was returning from exile in Iran was detained by U.S. forces for several hours Tuesday with dozens of his followers, an Iraqi exile group said.
Ayatollah Mohammad Taki al-Mudarissi, leader of the Islamic Action Organization, and 60 others were stopped on a road near the Iran-Iraq border, Jaafar Mohammed, a senior official of the allied Islamic Labor Organization, told The Associated Press by phone from Damascus.
He said the ayatollah was released Tuesday night following "massive protests" by Shiites, but that the fate of the others was unclear.
Al-Mudarissi was on his way to his Iraqi home city of Karbala, where he was to address hundreds of thousands of Shiites on an annual pilgrimage to mark the death of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
A spokesman for coalition Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said he did not know about the alleged detentions and could not comment.
There were reports that al-Mudarissi was detained initially by fighters of the Iranian opposition Mujahedeen Khalq who handed him over to U.S. forces, but a spokesman for the group in Paris denied that. "We have no problem with Ayatollah al-Mudarissi," said Ali Safavi. "There is no reason for us to cause problems for him."
Al-Mudarissi left Iraq in the late '70s for Kuwait, then Syria and finally Iran.