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'touched lives' Controversial Ulster pastor James McConnell who branded Islam 'satanic' dies aged 84

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson led tributes to the religious leader

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Evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell (Niall Carson/PA)

Evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell (Niall Carson/PA)

Evangelical preacher Pastor James McConnell (Niall Carson/PA)

One of Northern Ireland's best known church leaders has died following illness.

Pastor James McConnell, 84, founded the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in north Belfast and led several major open-air gospel events.

He had been receiving end-of-life care at the Royal Victoria Hospital in recent days.

Pastor David Purse announced on the church Facebook page on Saturday morning that it was with "profound sadness and indescribable pain" that Mr McConnell had died after seven weeks in hospital.

"To say that we will miss him and are going to miss him is a massive understatement," he said.

He said the thoughts and prayers of the church were with Pastor McConnell's wife Margaret and his daughters, Linda and Julie.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson expressed his sadness.

"Pastor James McConnell touched lives around the world," he said.

"Bringing the good news of the gospel and leading a ministry which personified the parable of the Good Samaritan.

"My sympathies to his family and friends who will feel his passing most dearly.

Mr McConnell hit headlines in 2014 after calling Islam "heathen" and "satanic" during a church sermon.

He was questioned by police and was later found not guilty of making grossly offensive remarks against Islam, after a trial at Belfast Magistrates' Court which garnered worldwide attention.

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