Thursday, February 15, 2007
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran — A car bomb killed 11 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday in the deadliest attack in years near the Pakistani border, and Iran accused the United States of backing militants to destabilize the country.
A Sunni Muslim militant group called Jundallah, or God's Brigade, which has been blamed for past attacks on Iranian troops, claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.
An al-Qaida-linked group of the same name has carried out attacks in neighboring Pakistan. Iranian officials say the militants in southeast Iran find a safe haven in Pakistan, but it is not clear whether the two groups are connected. Pakistani officials say they are not.
The blast represented a sharp flare-up of violence in the remote southeast corner of Iran, near Pakistan and Afghanistan, that has long been plagued by lawlessness. The area is a key crossing point for opium from Afghanistan and often sees clashes between police and drug gangs.
At the same time, Jundallah has waged a low-level insurgency in the area, led by Abdulmalak Rigi, a member of Iran's ethnic Baluchi minority, a community that is Sunni Muslim and is present in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Rigi has said his group is fighting for the rights of impoverished Sunnis under Iran's Shiite government.
Five of those behind Wednesday's explosion were arrested, Soltan Ali Mir, a local Interior Ministry official, told the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The Fars news agency reported four arrested and cited officials saying they were not Iranian citizens.
Iranian officials blamed "insurgents" and "terrorists" for Wednesday's bombing — and accused the United States of backing them to sow instability in Iran.
"This was done by a group that gets support from America," the Islamic Republic News Agency said, quoting unidentified officials.
Iran has increasingly raised the alarm that the United States may attack it or try to foment an uprising against the government as the standoff between the two countries has escalated in recent weeks over the country's nuclear program and over the turmoil in Iraq.
President Bush on Wednesday repeated accusations that Iran was supplying weapons to militants in Iraq and vowed to stop the support. The U.S. has also built up its military presence in the Persian Gulf and has vowed action against Iranian operatives in Iraq.
Iranian officials have often raised concerns that Washington might incite members of Iran's many ethnic and religious minorities against the Shiite-led government.
Wednesday's bombing took place near Zahedan, capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, when a car packed with explosives pulled to a stop in front of a bus carrying members of the Revolutionary Guard.
The car exploded, killing 11 guards and wounding 31, the provincial governor, Hassan Ali Nouri, told IRNA. He said one attacker was also killed.