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Attacked Khomeini shrine is beacon for Iranians

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image A police helicopter flys around outside the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran June 7, 2017 (AFP Photo/Hasan SHIRVANI)

Tehran (AFP) - The shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini near Tehran that was attacked on Wednesday has become a place of pilgrimage for millions of Shiite Muslims.

Gunmen and suicide bombers simultaneously stormed Iran's parliament and the mausoleum of its revolutionary leader, killing 12 people in the first attacks in the country claimed by the Sunni Muslim Islamic State group.

At the shrine a gardener was killed when assailants entered the grounds. One detonated a suicide vest, while the other was shot dead.

Construction of the two-storey shrine was started just after the cleric's death of a heart attack on June 4, 1989.

It dominates the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, 13 kilometres (eight miles) south of the Iranian capital, where thousands killed during the 1979 Islamic revolution and 1980-1988 war with Iraq are buried.

Visitors come on religious holidays, weekends, and of course the anniversary of Khomeini's death at the age of 89.

- Iran's third holy site -

Clerics say the shrine is now the third most visited holy site in Iran for Shiites after tombs in the cities of Mashhad, and Qom, which lies a little further to the south.

Many of those who visit Khomeini's resting place speak of feelings of peace that being in his presence brings them, and some suggest prayers for healing or offspring have been answered.

Run by Khomeini's grandson Hassan, the sepulchre is also a frequent stop for top Iranian officials.

The site's core consists of four minarets and iron lattice work that surrounds the modest graves of Khomeini and his son Ahmad, as well as ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who died in January -- covered in green fabric and portraits.

Pilgrims slip bank notes through the lattice work to support veterans associations and soup kitchens.

A large dome covered in gold leaf tops the shrine, and bathes the core in soft light.

Black banners bearing quotations by the cleric hang on the walls and pillars, and a panel across the entrance is adorned with the phrase: "We shall resist to the last drop of our blood for the sake of the greatness of the word Allah."

- Khomeini's thoughts -

Men and women have their own entrances to the neo-Islamic structure, and find themselves in a huge marble hall of around 10,000 square metres (107,000 square feet).

The entire complex is still being enlarged and will eventually include a cultural and Islamic study centre and a square on which souvenir sellers offer their wares.

As visitors leave they contemplate a final thought from the imam: "Whether I am among you or not, I beg you not to allow the revolution to fall into the hands of those who are not from among us."

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