By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
Iran's former hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has reportedly said that the United States is working to arrest the Hidden Imam, who according to Shi'ite belief went into hiding in the 10th century and will reappear to bring justice to Earth.
cartoon by Mohammad Tahani, Arman daily
Ahmadinejad made the comments in a speech to a group of clerics marking the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, according to a transcript posted on June 21 on the website Dolatebahar.com, which is run by his supporters.
Ahmadinejad is quoted as saying that the West has been building a case against the Hidden Imam to prevent his reappearance, a claim that the Islamic republic's main reformist daily newspaper, Shargh, described as "strange."
"They've done so much research about the Hidden Imam in the human science universities of the United States that I am not exaggerating by saying that it is a thousand times more than all the work done in the seminaries of Qom, Najaf, and Mashhad," he reportedly said, referring to three Shi'ite holy cities.
Ahmadinejad, who is known for his controversial statements and his devotion to the Hidden Imam, added that U.S. universities have debriefed numerous individuals who have been in touch with the disappeared spiritual leader.
"To quote a friend, they've completed a case against the Hidden Imam, and closed it also for his arrest," he was quoted as saying. "The only [evidence] they lack is his picture."
Ahmadinejad suggested that the West -- and particularly the United States -- sees the return of the Hidden Imam as a threat to its "empire," adding that the U.S. administration is "evil."
"It is really a government established by Satan to prevent reaching God and the Hidden Imam," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying. " ... This evil government knows that its end will come if the Hidden Imam reappears."
He reportedly acknowledged that "some in Iran laugh about these comments."
Ahmadinejad, who served as Iran's president from 2005 to 2013, has previously suggested that the United States is attempting to thwart the Hidden Imam's return.
The launch of his website and Instagram account earlier this year was seen by some as sign that the former president may be attempting a political comeback ahead of next year's parliamentary elections.
Ahmadinejad kept a low profile after his successor, self-proclaimed moderate cleric Hassan Rohani, came to power in 2013. He has become more visible in recent months thanks to his attendance at several public events -- and because of the arrest of two of his former aides.
Hamid Baghaei, who served as Ahmadinejad's vice president for executive affairs, was arrested on June 8. The charges have not been made public, though Baghaei's arrest has fueled speculation that they may involve alleged financial improprieties.
In January, another former deputy to Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, was jailed for five years after being convicted of corruption and embezzlement.
Ahmadinejad has sought to distance his presidency from widespread allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
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