The blood of martyr Ali Rezaieh was conspicuously preserved at the site of the attack, an old Iranian tradition. Drops led down the steps toward a crowded alley while a thick pool remained on the flat roof above.
The death of Rezaieh here last night may set off a jihad, or holy war, if the frenized Iranians demonstrating in the theological school across the alley from the death scene get their way.
"Shariatmadari, give us the order for a jihad," some men shouted, their fists raided. "We are all soldiers of Shariatmadari. All Rezaieh, your martydom is welcomed."
The handsome young Rezaieh was killed and more than a dozen other followers of Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari wounded last night when followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's Islamic revolutionary leader, attacked Shariatmadari's yellow-brick, modest housing compound here.
Today, Ayatollah Shariatmadari, regarded as this country's second-ranking religious leader, was not his usual twinkle-eyed self.
"This is the very worst, most delicate and unsafe of situations" since the February revolution, he said gravely.
The clash between the two camps led by the rival Islamic high holy men is reverbearating across Iran. About 500 miles to the northwest of Qom, Shariatmadarl's supporters were in the streets seeking vengeance.
"We have done our level best to calm things," Shariatmadari said, "but events there are out of our hands."
Pro-Khomeini men attacked Shariatmadari's house here in the holy city of Shitte Islam to protest his call to boycott a constitutional referendum earlier this week. The new constitution, which was approved by the participating voters, confers virtually unlimited powers on Khomeini.
Today, the 16 compound guards protecting Shariatmadari stood their ground against a crowd they estimated at up to 1,000.
In a room near the bare, gray-walled chamber where Shariatmadari receives guests sat two guards.
One clasped his thighs where he had been stabbed. The othre was wrapped in a yellow blanket that hid all but his bandaged head and deeply scarred left cheek.
"I don't want to have any bloodshed. I don't want the situation to worsen," "If this continues I will have to leave."
The prospect of his departure -- undoubtedly for Azerbaijan -- portended a potentially cataclysmic upheaval in his home province.
Events there threatened to promote the kind of breakaway aspirations already visible in other parts of the country.
The revolutionary regime is pitted against the Turkomans in the northeast, the Baluchis in the southeast, the Arabs in oil-rich Khuzestan in the south and the Kurds to the west. The Kurds have come closest to achieving demands for autonomy that have been pressed by all these groups.
Even as Shariatmadari spoke, busloads of his Azerbaijani followers were reported driving down to Qom from their northwestern region to protect him.
The ayatollah recalled that during earlier demonstrations against his independent stand he had appealed in vain to stop some 20,000 followers from driving down from Tabriz in buses.
Inside his small courtyard, two grizzled old men patrolled with their Iranian-made G3 assault rifles. Outside two young men with their faces hidden in Palestinian-style Arab head dresses stood guard.
One muttered, "We called the police, but they arrived, of course, only when the attack was over."
The morning, Khomeini and his son, Ahmad, arrived, stayed for 15 minutes and left without making a statement. Ahmad returned afterward to deliver a message from his father.
Khomeini later denounced the attack as a plot by SAVAK, the shah's once-dreaded secret police, and the U.S.-CIA.
He called for "all classes to stick together against the big enemy," meaning the United States.
Condemining the attack, Khomeini said it was "the religious duty" of "all classes, but especially intellectuals, writers and theological students," who are numerous in Qom, to "stop their quarrels."
Shariatmadari was les grandiloquent. He said he had reached an unspecified agreement with Khomeini and that "if the agreement comes into force the situation will improve."
By nature subdued and moderate, Shariatmadari, 77, has long experience in dealing with crises.
It was Shariatmadari who helped spare Khomeini's life by forcing authorites to send Khomeini into exile rather than execute him for stirring up bloody street riots in 1963. Shariatmadari simply named Khomeini an ayatollah, a religious rank that by Persian tradition exempts the holder from capital punishment.
Free to criticize Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi at will from the safety of his Iraqi exile, Khomeini built a reputation for uncompromising opposition to the monarchy.
Both by disposition and necessity, Shariatmadari was more careful. A believer in the separation of mosque and state, he also had to contend with the reality of temporal power in Iran.
In any case, he paid a price for the religious opposition to the shah. Before the shah fell, a SAVAK men checked visitors in the alley in front of his home and a beggar on the SAVAK payroll checked them at his door.
In May 1978, Gen. Manuchehr Khosrowdad's helicopter-borne troops smashed their way into a Qom theological school and killed two clerics.
Their blood-soaked turbans were kept as relics for months in the very rooms where frenzied Shariatmadari followers today called for holy war against his attackers.
On the compound wall, the stenciled phrase, "We want a republic," represented one of Shariatmadari's many unsuccessful ideas in opposition to Khomeini's "Islamic Republic," which was adopted almost unanimously last spring. Today, Shariatmadari's party, the Moslem People's Republican Party, called him "the great leader of the world's Shiites."
Whether such a statement, in open definance of Khomeini, would be enough to exact vengeance such as the attack by Khomeini such as the atack by Khomeini supporters remained unclear in Qom.
Stroking his white beard, Shariatmadari reflected over the past two years:
"The killings? Yes, it has happened before to our people. Yes, our people were killed by the shah, and now by these . . ." He did not finish his phrase.