CAIRO, Egypt – The Al Qaeda terror group was behind last year's assassination of a leading Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr al-Hakim (search), his brother said in remarks published Saturday.
Al Qaeda (search ) "wants to ignite sectarian conflict," Abdel Aziz al-Hakim told the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat in an interview. "We (in the Iraqi Governing Council) have intelligence proving that they are heading in this direction."
Ayatollah al-Hakim was the leader of the largest Shiite party, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution (search ) in Iraq. He was killed by a car bomb as he left a mosque in the city of Najaf on Aug. 31. The blast killed more than 85 people.
Abdel Aziz al-Hakim now leads SCIRI and is a member of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council.
"Al Qaeda's ideology and attitude toward other Islamic sects are well known. There is lots of intelligence that proves the group is responsibile for the killing of al-Hakim," Abdel Aziz al-Hakim told the London-based newspaper.
He declined to reveal more of the intelligence information, but he said the Governing Council was not surprised by a letter released by the U.S. authorities this month that was purportedly written by the senior Al Qaeda member, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The letter told other Al Qaeda leaders that the best way to undermine U.S. policy in Iraq was to turn the country's religious communities against each other.
Al Qaeda is led by Usama bin Laden (search) and is blamed for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
There is strong rivalry among Iraq's various groups, particularly the Shiites, Kurds, and Sunni Muslims, as the country approaches a handover of power from the U.S.-led coalition and eventual elections.