Iran: US, Britain, Pakistan linked to militants

October 19, 2009 5:22:26 AM PDT
The chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard on Monday accused the United States, Britain and Pakistan of having links with the Sunni militants responsible for a suicide bombing that killed five senior Guard commanders and 37 others. Iran's president said those behind Sunday's bombing are hiding across the border in Pakistan, and in a phone call with his Pakistani counterpart on Monday he demanded their arrest.

A Sunni rebel group that has waged a low-level insurgency in Iran's southeast to protest what it says is government persecution of an ethnic minority in the region claimed responsibility for Sunday's attack. The claim was posted Monday on an Islamic Web site that usually publishes al-Qaida statements. Its authenticity could not be verified.

Revolutionary Guard chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari said Monday that the Sunni rebel group, known as Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, is at work to disrupt security in Iran and he vowed a crushing response.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Jafari as saying that the group has links with American, British and Pakistani intelligence and operates under their support and orders.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had harsh words for his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari.

"The presence of terrorist elements in Pakistan is not justifiable and the Pakistani government needs to help arrest and punish the criminals as soon as possible," state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Zardari Monday.

Zardari telephoned Ahmadinejad to strongly condemn the suicide attack, said a statement from the Pakistani president's office. President Zardari said the incident was "gruesome and barbaric" and bore the "signatures of a cowardly enemy on the run."

He said both Pakistan and Iran have deep historical ties and he assured that Pakistan will continue to support and cooperate with Iran in curbing militancy and fighting extremism and terrorism.

In the Internet claim of responsibility, a statement in the name of Jundallah said the attack was carried out in "retaliation for the Iranian regime's crimes against the unarmed people of Baluchistan."

He was referring to the area populated by ethnic Baluchi tribes, who follow the Sunni branch of Islam and are a minority in predominantly Shiite, Persian Iran.

The statement also identified the man it said carried out the attack as Abdel-Wahed Mohammadi Sarawani, suggesting he is from the small town of Sarawan, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Pakistani border.

It also accused the Iranian government of executing many people merely because they are Sunnis or Baluchis.

Jundallah has carried out sporadic kidnappings and attacks in recent years -- including targeting the Revolutionary Guard -- to press their claims of persecution.

In May, Jundallah said it sent a suicide bomber into a Shiite mosque in the southeastern city of Zahedan, killing 25 worshippers.

Sunday's attack in the Pishin district near the Pakistani border, however, would mark the group's highest-level target. It also raised questions about how the attacker breached security around such a top delegation from the Revolutionary Guard -- the country's strongest military force, which is directly linked to the ruling clerics under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The victims included the deputy commander of the Guard's ground forces, Gen. Noor Ali Shooshtari, as well as a chief provincial Guard commander, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh. The others killed were Guard members or tribal leaders, it said.

Iran was planning a funeral Monday in Zahedan for nearly all of those killed, state media reports said. A second service will take place in Tehran on Tuesday for one of the commanders, Shooshtari.

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