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Hurieh Mohamady's big brown eyes widen with the admiration a preteen might have for pop singer Britney Spears.

The seventh grader is sitting on a lawn chair outside the French embassy in Ottawa, speaking passionately about Neda Hassani, the 26-year-old Iranian Canadian who died after setting herself on fire in front of the French embassy in London just over a week ago.

"Her heart meant her to do it," Hurieh said softly. "I'm just 11 years old, but I would do it, too."

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Hurieh's father, Mustaff Mohamady, a 46-year-old welder from Toronto, recently tried to set himself ablaze but was stopped by a police officer.

When asked in an interview if he wanted to die, Mr. Mohamady replied without hesitation: "Yes. We are all soldiers and we do everything for our nation and our country."

Like Ms. Hassani, Mr. Mohamady and his daughter are supporters of the Mujahedeen Khalq (Fighters for the People), an exiled Iranian opposition group described by its fervent supporters as a pro-democracy, human-rights group but decried by its critics as a cult-like terrorist group.

Ms. Hassani was among those protesting against the recent arrest in Paris of mujahedeen leader Maryam Rajavi and 157 members of the organization. After a day of demonstrations outside the French embassy in London, Ms. Hassani returned alone at night and doused herself with gasoline and set it alight. She died in hospital several days later.

The bright Carleton University computer-science student has become an instant martyr for the Mujahedeen Khalq. Her portrait adorns a makeshift memorial outside France's embassy in Ottawa, next to candles, bouquets of flowers and pictures of Ms. Rajavi and Masoud Rajavi, her husband and co-leader.

There is also a photograph of a mujahedeen protester engulfed in flames under the words: "Like a phoenix, I will rise again in my people's voice and struggle for democracy."

The white-and-red flags of the Mujahedeen Khalq hang next to Iranian flags predating the Islamic revolution of 1979. About a dozen supporters quietly gather in the shade on a humid summer afternoon as a stereo plays revolutionary Persian marching music.

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This is where Ms. Hassani's funeral procession is to start today along Sussex Drive, not far from the residence of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

It is unclear just how a young woman - living in a middle-class Ottawa neighbourhood who spent most of her life in Canada - ended up sacrificing herself for a cause of a homeland she left at age 7.

But her grief-stricken mother, Froogh Hassani, recounted her daughter's final words, after she and her husband, Ahmed, returned to Canada from London with their eldest child's body.

"Free our sunshine, free Maryam Rajavi," her mother said her daughter repeated, adding: "My daughter gave her life for her."

Nine protesters in France, England and Germany have set themselves on fire since Ms. Rajavi was arrested with her supporters at their Paris headquarters on June 17. One woman in France also died.

Ms. Hassani's parents were protesting in front of the French embassy in Ottawa with her uncle Hamid Mottaghi when they heard the news their daughter was dead.

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"To me, she is a hero," said Mr. Mottaghi, but he is not eager to promote her actions.

"If I was there and she set herself on fire, I would have risked my life to save her," he said, fighting back tears. "I had to go to the cemetery yesterday and buy my niece a grave. It is killing me."

The Mujahedeen Khalq was founded by radical university students in Tehran in the early 1960s and seeks to topple Iran's clerical-dominated regime. It is classified as a terrorist organization in the United States and the European Union.

Experts in Middle East politics say the mujahedeen is a fanatical fringe movement with a blend of Islamic Marxist philosophy that has little chance of forming an opposition in Iran.

"It's extreme indoctrination and extreme fanaticism passed on from generation to generation," said Nader Hashemi, a University of Waterloo lecturer on religion and democracy in Iran. "Their support is negligible, almost nil."

Mr. Mohamady said the critics have it all wrong. "This regime is a terrorist regime," he said of Iran's government. "More than 120,000 people have been executed."

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Ms. Hassani's father, a taxi driver, told reporters he found a poem in his daughter's belongings that he believes she wrote to Ms. Rajavi the night before her death.

"Against the flow of savage winds, I give my spirit to protect you," she wrote.

"I think she really cared about Maryam Rajavi," said Hurieh, who also composed a poem, entitled Neda Hassani, which she shyly reads.

"The heart of a little girl. Her life like a candle, shining in the dark, burning so much, but giving us love."



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