BASRA, Iraq (RFE/RL) -- The killing of two ethnic Mandaeans in neighboring jewelry stores in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on September 19 is being considered a religious hate crime, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.
Salam Nassir al-Khudadi, the spokesman for Basra's Mandaean community, told RFI on September 21 that because the criminals did not steal much jewelry, the incident is likely a Mandaean hate crime.
One of the earliest gnostic religions, Mandaeans believe in a dualistic cosmology and consider themselves to be descendants of two sons of the biblical Noah. They place great importance on John the Baptist and consider Jesus, Abraham, Moses, and Muhammad to be false prophets. The sect appeared in modern-day Iraq 2,000 years ago and has some 60,000 followers worldwide.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Mandaeans -- an ethnic minority as well as a religious sect -- were fiercely persecuted by both Sunnis and Shi'a. There are only about 350 Mandaean families left in Basra, down from tens of thousands in the early 1990s.
Many fled to Syria and Jordan, but there are small communities in Sweden, Australia, the United States, Britain, and Canada.