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Men killed at Basra mosque - police, Sunnis say

Written by: Staff
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BASRA, Iraq, June 4 (Reuters) A Sunni religious group in the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi city of Basra said today that police had gunned down 12 unarmed worshippers in a Sunni mosque but police said they were returning fire against gunmen.

A police source said they received a tip that ''terrorists'' had taken refuge inside al-Arab mosque and were fired on when they surrounded it on Saturday night. They said nine gunmen were killed and six arrested.

The violence came hours after a car bomb killed 28 people in Basra, challenging a state of emergency imposed by new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki aimed at cracking down on gangs, militias and feuding Shi'ite factions threatening oil exports.

Sunnis often accuse Shi'ite militias of infiltrating Iraqi police units and of carrying out killings against members of Iraq's once-dominant minority.

''We accuse the security forces (police) in Basra for what happened,'' said the Sunni Endowment in a statement read to Reuters by one of its officials.

''Only worshipers were killed in the mosque,'' it said. ''They killed unarmed people inside the mosque.'' But a police source rejected this account, saying police were fired at when they came to the mosque in the centre of the southern city.

''We got information that terrorists were inside the mosque and when we got there they fired at us and we responded,'' the source said.

Security in Iraq's second city has deteriorated sharply over the last year as feuding Shi'ite factions tussle for powers.

REUTERS SY RN1319

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