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Pro-Ahmadinejad Sunni Cleric Said Killed In Western Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- A Sunni cleric who backed President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Iran's disputed June election has been assassinated in a Kurdish-populated region, a semi-official news agency has reported.

Fars news agency said Borhan Aali, a Friday Prayers leader in the city of Sanandaj in western Kurdistan Province, was killed by unknown assailants late on September 12 at his home. State radio said he was shot several times.

"He was a prominent cleric in Kurdistan Province who worked for Ahmadinejad in the course of the election. He was accepted and respected by all of the people of Sanandaj," Fars said.

Governor Mohammad-Taqi Heydari of Sanandaj, the provincial capital, said he believed the attack was linked to hard-line Sunni groups seeking to stir discord.

"This incident has been in line with the enemy's plots to make it appear that the city in unsafe," he said. "They want to create discord in the region by carrying out such plots."

Kurdistan Province, bordering Iraq, is the scene of frequent clashes between Kurdish guerrillas and Iranian security forces.

Like neighboring Iraq and Turkey, Iran has a large Kurdish minority, mainly living in the country's northwest and west. Iran is a mainly Shi'ite Muslim country, but most Kurds are Sunni Muslims.

The reformist opposition says the June presidential poll, which was followed by opposition protests in Tehran and other cities, was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad's reelection. The authorities deny the charge.