Iran Hunts 'Spider Murders' Serial Killer

T E H R A N, Iran, July 11, 2001 -- The Iranian killer who strangles women by their Islamic headscarves has claimed a 17th victim in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad, newspapers reported today.

As in the previous murders, the 30-year-old woman had beenstrangled by her headscarf and her body wrapped in a chador, ablack robe worn by religious Muslim women in Iran.

All the previous victims, aged between 26 and 50, hadcriminal records of drug addiction or prostitution.

In the Way a Spider Traps a Fly

The killings have been dubbed "The Spider Murders" becausethe headscarves entangled and suffocated the women the way aspider uses its web to trap victims.

Police have suggested a religious motive behind the murderswhich have all taken place in the past year in Mashhad, home toa major Shi'ite Muslim shrine and an important pilgrimagedestination.

As the death toll mounts, pressure is mounting on policeand politicians to do more to capture whoever is behind themurders.

Iran's police chief Brig. Gen. Mohammad Baqer Qalibafpromised during a visit to Mashhad Tuesday that the policewould announce the results of their investigation in the "verynear future."

A special police squad has been dispatched to Mashhad fromthe capital Tehran to assist local authorities.

Long-Delayed Action

Police have said they are investigating a possible linkwith the murders of women who ran brothels and were killed inthe same way in the nearby town of Bojnourd two years ago.

The extent of the killings has led to some complaints thatthe authorities may not be doing enough to capture the killer,given that the victims are on the margins of a conservativeIslamic society.

Fatemeh Khatami, a member of parliament from Mashhad, saidthe assembly's security committee had summoned the police andsecurity chiefs to discuss the matter.

A journalist in Mashhad said the murders had caused littlestir among the general population because the victims were seenas "socially undesirable."

Police only began to notice a link between the victimsafter about 10 lives had been claimed.

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