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Suspected Killer Shows No Remorse

July 27, 2001 GMT

MASHHAD, Iran (AP) _ A suspect in the killings of 19 prostitutes said Thursday that he killed to protect his religion and would have continued if he hadn’t been caught.

``I killed the women for the sake of God, and for the protection of my religion because they were prostitutes and (were) corrupting other people,″ Saeed Hanaei told reporters at the site of one the murders.

Hanaei, a 39-year-old construction worker, was identified by police as the main suspect Thursday.

The crimes in Mashhad, a holy city 470 miles northeaset of Tehran, the capital, baffled police for the past year. Police had taken 500 prostitutes off the streets in a bid to protect them.

Officials say all the victims were convicted prostitutes and drug users. Each was killed on a Sunday and strangled with a headscarf.

On Thursday, the judge investigating the case accompanied Hanaei to where three of the victims were found.

Looking relaxed and confident, Hanaei said if he had not been arrested the wave of killings would have continued.

``I wouldn’t have bothered even if I had killed 150 women because I wanted to clean the holy city of Mashhad from corrupt women and prostitutes,″ he said.

Hanaei, married with three children, comes from a poor Mashhad neighborhood where prostitutes worked, police said.