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Iran: Cleric slightly injured following knife attack after Friday prayers in Isfahan

Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad 'scratched' by knife carried by a man, aged about 25, security guards detained
Tabatabai-Nejad is the Friday prayer leader of the city of Isfahan (AFP)

A senior Iranian cleric was slightly hurt after being attacked with a knife by a man after Friday prayers in the central city of Isfahan, the state news agency IRNA reported. 

Hassan Shahzeydi, a spokesperson for Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad, said the cleric was "scratched" by a knife carried by a man, aged about 25, who was detained by security guards.

Appearing unhurt on state television after receiving treatment, the cleric said: "It was a young man who likely had a problem and who suddenly attacked, and he wasn't able to do anything - except a blow hit my neck - but he was held back. His motives have to be investigated."

Tabatabai-Nejad is the representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the province of Isfahan and the Friday prayer leader of the city of Isfahan, the provincial capital.

He also represents the province of Isfahan in Iran's Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects and monitors the supreme leader.

Attacks on clerics and government officials have been rare in Iran after authorities tightened security measures and cracked down on opposition groups following a string of attacks and bombings that killed dozens of officials and clerics following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

However, in April, two clerics were stabbed to death, and another was injured at the country's most prominent Shia religious complex, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. 

Officials said that attacker was a 21-year-old ethnic Uzbek from Afghanistan with Sunni radical views. 

'Incompetent officials'

In recent weeks, Iranians have taken to the streets to protest against rising food prices as well as against leaders in the Islamic government and clerics over a deadly building collapse last month in the city of Abadan that was widely blamed on corruption and lax safety measures. 

Protestors demanded that the "incompetent officials" be executed after the collapse resulted in the deaths of at least 37 people. 

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On Saturday, Khamenei accused the "enemy," a reference often used to mean the United States, of seeking to use the protests to weaken the country. 

"Today, the enemy counts on popular demonstrations to strike the Islamic system," Khamenei said during a televised address.

The enemy "hopes to turn the people against the Islamic republic by psychological means, through the Internet, money, and the mobilisation of mercenaries," Khamenei said. 

He also repeated his call for the punishment of officials responsible for the collapse of the 10-storey Metropol tower block in Abadan.

According to the provincial judiciary, 13 people have been arrested, including the mayor and two former mayors.