Former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami on Friday condemned the Sept. 11 attacks in the US as an atrocity and said suicide bombers did Islam an injustice and would not go to heaven.
Three days before the fifth anniversary of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, the Shiite cleric urged Muslims to work against "Islamaphobia," which he said had grown since Islamic militants flew hijacked aircraft into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
Two crimes were committed on Sept. 11 -- civilians were killed and it was done in the name of Islam, Khatami told the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a human rights group.
"We Muslims should condemn these atrocities even more strongly," he said.
"[A] terrorist, which means killing of civilians, is a human being that lacks morality ... [and] will not go to heaven" and those who commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam "are lying," he said.
Nearing the end of a five-city US visit in which he largely stressed themes of dialogue and co-existence, Khatami continued to stir controversy.
A US-based pro-Israel group, the Israel Project, complained in a press release that the president was "working to whitewash Iran's record of nuclear developments, support for terror and human rights violations."
In a Time magazine interview, Khatami said he regretted the 1979 US hostage crisis and acknowledged the Holocaust of 6 million Jews as "historical fact."
"I believe the Holocaust is the crime of Nazism," Khatami told Time magazine.
"But it is possible that the Holocaust, which is an absolute fact, a historical fact, would be misused. The Holocaust should not be, in any way, an excuse for the suppression of Palestinian rights," he told the New York-based newsweekly.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied publicly the Holocaust, as recently as last month.
However, Khatami said he doubted his successor had malicious intentions.
"I personally believe that he really didn't deny the existence of the Holocaust," he said.