Profile: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Until a few months ago, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran. This son of a blacksmith was elected president of the country by promising to give poor people a share of Iran's oil wealth.

It's a popular message on the street here, and so is his idea that the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed, is a myth.

ABC News interviewed one Iranian man, who, when asked about what he thought happened during the Holocaust, replied, "nothing."

Holocaust denial may be an easy sell in Iran, but the new president has also said things about religious mysticism that have some people in Iran and elsewhere questioning his view of reality.

Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations last fall, then returned home and told a group of mullahs that as he was making that speech, a light surrounded him.

"All of a sudden I felt the atmosphere change," Ahmadinejad told them. "For 27 minutes the leaders did not blink. They were astonished."

That bizarre vision bothers even some of the grand ayatollahs in the spiritual center of the Iranian revolution -- the holy city of Qom.

"If he really did say this, then it is certainly wrong, and it is certainly treason," said Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei. "If the people in power want to use religion as a tool, it shows they don't know how to do their jobs."

Early Days

Ahmadinejad believes deeply in many things. As a young man, he took part in the country's Islamic revolution as a member of the revolutionary guards.

Nasser Hadian, who grew up with Ahmadinejad, says he has always been pragmatic and smart -- even finishing No. 1 in his high school class.

Today, Ahmadinejad still lives in the old neighborhood in a small house, doing everything he can to project the image of a modest and devout man.

From his first days in office, he began to express a fervent belief in the Shiite prophecy that the 12th imam, or the messiah, would return to save the believers and kill the infidels.

What really got many people's attention was that the new president said it would happen in the next two years.

Some analysts fear just how Ahmadinejad might try to bring about the end of the world and what he might do with a nuclear weapon.

Sayeed Jazy has also known the president since childhood. He believes a lot of what his friend says, including his call to annihilate Israel, is just rhetoric.

Said Jazy: "You sit down and ask him, 'Do you really want to do that?' He would say no. Because I know him, he's not like that. No one in right mind would accept that."

ABC News' Bob Woodruff filed this report for "World News Tonight."