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British contractor beaten in Iraq over alleged insult to Islam

By Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq,CNN
updated 4:52 PM EST, Wed November 13, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A mob of men drags a contractor out of a car and beats him, a video shows
  • The contractor allegedly tore down flags of important imams, local media report
  • The British man's condition is unknown; the British Foreign office is aware of the incident
  • Shiite Muslims are preparing to celebrate Ashura, which honors a 7th century imam

(CNN) -- A Western security contractor was brutally assaulted in southern Iraq this week by a Shiite mob after he reportedly insulted their sect of Islam.

A 10-minute video circulating on social media sites showed an angry mob of men carrying metal rods, a pickax and other sharp objects attacking the car the man was in, smashing the glass and dragging him out.

More than a dozen men are seen beating the man, who pleaded for the attackers to stop as blood streamed down his face. The security contractor's condition was unclear on Wednesday.

According to local media reports, the man was identified as a British security consultant from the UK-based private security firm G4S contracted by the oil services company Schlumberger at Iraq's Rumeilah oil field, the country's largest.

The man reportedly tore down flags with the images of two of Shiite Islam's most revered imams -- Imam Ali and Imam Hussein -- that Iraqi staff had placed on a company car on Monday.

The security contractor appeared to be wearing a G4S T-shirt in the video.

Neither G4S nor Schlumberger has responded to CNN's requests for comment on the incident.

Among the attackers were Iraqi guards from the Canada-based security company Garda World, which has an office in the United States.

A spokesman for Garda World confirmed to CNN that some of its employees were involved in the incident.

"Garda World employees were not involved in the initial incident," Joe Gavaghan, a company spokesman, told CNN on Wednesday. "But during subsequent disturbance a small number of local national employees took part."

Gavaghan said Garda World was working with "the client" and local authorities to investigate the incident.

"We take this issue seriously and are well aware of cultural sensitivities ... We do not tolerate inappropriate behavior," he said.

A number of Iraqi men, including Garda World guards, are seen later in the video trying to stop the assault by the mob that at times chanted Shiite slogans.

Amid the chaos at the end of the video, a member of the Iraqi security forces appears on the scene as the man was dragged away before the clip ended.

The British Foreign Office told CNN on Wednesday they were aware of "an incident" and "are providing consular assistance."

According to a statement by the Basra local government, Gov. Majed al-Nasrawi met with senior local security and oil officials on Tuesday about the incident.

In that meeting, according to the statement, the governor stated that religious symbols are a "red line that cannot be crossed."

While rejecting what they described as "violations," local officials called on all parties to "resort to logic and wisdom and allow the security forces and the judiciary to take their natural course in this case," the statement said.

The incident took place as Shiite Muslims prepare to observe Ashura, one of the holiest days in the Shiite calendar marking the death of Imam Hussain, a 7th century imam and the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

For decades under Saddam Hussein and his Sunni Arab dominated regime, the Shiite majority in Iraq were banned from practicing their religious rituals.

Over the past decade since the fall of the regime, Shiite banners and flags with the images of Shiite figures have become more visible in Shiite-dominated areas of the country.

CNN's Ashleigh Cowie in London and Salma Abdelaziz in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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