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Senior Lebanese Shi'ite Cleric Fadlallah Dies

Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah in a 2005 photograph
Lebanon's Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, one of Shi'ite Islam's highest religious authorities and an early mentor of the militant group Hizballah, died in a Beirut hospital today, his family said.

Fadlallah, who was 74, had a wide following beyond Lebanon's Shi'ites, extending to Central Asia and the Gulf.

He had been too frail to deliver his regular Friday Prayers sermon for several weeks. He was taken to hospital on July 2 suffering from internal bleeding.

Fadlallah was a supporter of Iran's Islamic Revolution and the spiritual leader and mentor of the Shi'ite guerrilla group Hizballah when it was formed after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, though he later distanced himself from its ties with Iran.

U.S. President Bill Clinton included Fadlallah on 1995 U.S. blacklist of specially designated terrorists for his advocacy of suicide attacks as a means of fighting Israel.

He survived several assassination attempts, including a 1985 car bomb which killed 80 people in southern Beirut. U.S. news reports said the attack was carried out by a U.S.-trained Lebanese intelligence unit after attacks on U.S. targets in Lebanon.

He distanced himself from the abduction of Westerners by Islamic militant groups in Lebanon during the 1980s, saying he was against kidnappings, and repeatedly called for their release.

compiled from agency reports