Iran has paid homage to an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) soldier who was beheaded by Isis terrorists in Syria. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and thousands of others gathered in Tehran on Wednesday 27 September to mourn the death of 25-year-old Mohsen Hojaji, regarded as an iconic martyr.
Current and former government officials attended the funeral. Mourners carried portraits of Hojaji and unfolded black flags commonly used during Muharram, a mourning period in the Shia Islamic Republic, AP reported.
Khamenei referred to the late soldier, killed on 9 August, as a "dear martyr" and said "God emboldened Hojaji as an evidence of numerous young people" willing to fight and die defending Islam.
The hugely popular Iranian singer Sadegh Ahangaran sang: "We are defenders of the shrine until doomsday. Hey, mad knife-wielders, this house is full of Hojajis," AFP reported.
Hojaji was a member of the military adviser team assisting the Syrian army against Isis. He was abducted by the terror group near the border with Iraq on 7 August and killed on camera two days later.
An image showing a stoic Hojaji standing in front of his executioner who held a knife to his back went viral in August. "Look at the photo, there is no sign of weakness despite him being shot and captured," Hojaji 's 23-year-old widow, Zahra Abbasi, told Iranian media. "There is no fear in the eyes. It is all bravery, courage. He is like a mountain."
Isis later sent Hojaji's dismembered body to Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – an ally of Iran – as part of a truce between the two groups, Iran's Tasnim news agency reported. His body was first taken to the city of Mashhad for a blessing in the shrine of Imam Reza. It will be buried in Hojaji's hometown, Najafabad, following another funeral procession on Thursday 28 September.
Hojaji's death has deeply shocked the country, where people are becoming increasingly frustrated with Iran's foreign interventions. The death of the soldier has become the symbol of Iran's effort against Isis terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Isis represents a direct threat to Iran because it considers Shia Muslims to be infidels and persecutes them.