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Iranian cleric’s death linked to Islamic State group

Iran’s top cleric has died in an air crash, according to Iranian state media.

Mahmoud Reza Qassemi, the cleric of the Islamic Republic’s Grand Mosque in Tehran, died in the crash of an Iranian-made aircraft on Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency reported.

Qassemi’s death was first reported by state-owned Al Alam newspaper on Sunday.

The crash of the Iranian Airbus A330, the last in a series of fatal crashes by the Islamic State (IS) group in the past month, is likely to reignite a debate over the role of Iran’s government in the fight against the militant group, which is also known as ISIL or ISIS.

“The crash took place in Iran’s airspace and the cause is not yet known,” IRNA quoted the Iranian Ministry of Aviation as saying.

Iranian state media have also quoted a US official as saying the aircraft was en route from the United Arab Emirates to Qatar and that it may have crashed after reaching a runway outside the country.

Qasem Soleimani, a senior commander of Iran and IS, was named as the leader of IS’s Syrian wing, but he is believed to be dead.

Iran’s state-controlled Fars news agency said he had died in a drone strike.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are fighting IS in Syria, and its air force has bombed Syrian targets in the last two months, including the city of Deir al-Zour, which it captured from the militants in July last year.

Iran has not acknowledged the presence of IS fighters in the country and has repeatedly denied that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had any involvement in the conflict.

Iran is a major supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has overseen the collapse of the government and a brutal crackdown on protesters.