Iran Blames Pakistan and West for Deadly Suicide Bombing

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The Guardian/UK

Iran Blames Pakistan and West for Deadly Suicide Bombing

Iran vows revenge after blast kills six Revolutionary Guards commanders and 37 others in Sistan-Baluchistan province

by
Robert Tait and Mark Tran

Iranian TV shows General Noor Ali Shooshtari of the Revolutionary Guards, moments before he was killed. (Photograph: AFP/Getty Images)

Iran today blamed Pakistan
as well as the US and Britain for a suicide bombing that killed six of
its commanders and 37 others in one of the country's most unstable
provinces.

The head of the Revolutionary Guards, Muhammad Ali
Jafari, said Iranian security officials had presented documents
indicating "direct ties" linking a Sunni group to US, British and,
"unfortunately", Pakistani intelligence organisations, according to the
ISNA news agency.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad strongly criticised his Pakistan counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, in a telephone conversation.

"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.

Zardari telephoned Ahmadinejad to strongly condemn the suicide attack, a statement from the Pakistani president's office.

The
Sunni group, Jundallah (Soldiers of God), claimed responsibility and
said it was a response to "the constant crime of the regime in
Baluchistan". It named the bomber as Abdol Vahed Mohammadi Saravani.

The
attack, which killed the deputy commander of the guard's ground forces,
General Noor Ali Shooshtari, and Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the
provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan, inflicted Iran's worst
military casualties in years and raised questions of intelligence and
security failures in a region long blighted by a violent Sunni
insurgency.

Iranian media said the attacker had detonated a bomb
belt as Revolutionary Guard commanders arrived for a meeting with
tribal elders in a sports hall in Pishin, near Iran's frontier with
Pakistan. It was the latest in a series of gatherings meant to foster
unity in Sistan-Baluchistan, Iran's poorest province, after a spate of
attacks.

Those caught in the explosion had to be taken to
hospitals more than 150 miles away because Pishin lacked proper medical
facilities. Some are understood to have died en route.

The
Revolutionary Guards condemned the bombing as the work of "terrorists"
supported by "the great Satan America and its ally Britain", and
promised to respond.

"Not in the distant future we will take
revenge ... and Baluchis will clear this region from terrorists and
criminals," read a statement released to the semi-official Fars news
agency.

The statement echoed another call for revenge by the
Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former guard. "The criminals
will soon get the response for their anti-human crimes," the official
news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

State television cited an
"informed source" as saying that Britain was to blame "by organising,
supplying equipment and employing professional terrorists".

A US
state department spokesman, Ian Kelly, dismissed allegations of
American involvement as "completely false", adding: "We condemn this
act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives."

Over the
last five years it has become a standard Iranian position that the
US-British alliance is a source of unrest in Sistan-Baluchistan and
other provinces. Officials point to the presence of Nato forces in
neighbouring Afghanistan as a launchpad for Anglo-American interference.

While Iran has blamed Britain and the US for previous attacks on its territory, the latest allegation came as negotiations were due to resume in Vienna over its nuclear programme, which western governments fear may be designed to build an atomic bomb.

Iranian
officials have previously linked Jundallah with al-Qaida, although
other sources have suggested the group may have connections with the
Pakistani Taliban. In Tehran, the Iranian foreign minister summoned the
Pakistani charge d'affaires to complain.

The attack appeared to
be a direct challenge to the Revolutionary Guards, who took over direct
responsibility for Sistan-Baluchistan's security last April. The guards
have taken an increasingly prominent role in Iranian affairs in recent
times under the auspices of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Jundallah
has taken up arms on behalf of Sistan-Baluchistan's Sunni Baluch
population, which it says suffers discrimination at the hands of Iran's
Shia rulers. Commanded by Abdolmalek Rigi, the group claims to have
killed more than 400 Iranian troops during its insurgency.

It
claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 25 people at a
Shia mosque in Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan's provincial capital, last
May. The authorities responded by hanging 13 group members they said
had been involved.

Sistan-Baluchistan lies on a major drug
transit route from Afghanistan. Nearly 4,000 Iranian security officers
are believed to have been killed in clashes with smugglers since 1979.

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