Sunni group says it bombed Iran mosque for revenge
Leader was hanged; death toll rises to 27
TEHRAN — A Sunni insurgent group said it carried out a double suicide bombing against a Shi’ite mosque in southeast Iran to avenge the execution of its leader, as Iranian authorities yesterday said the death toll rose to 27 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.
The insurgent group, Jundallah, has repeatedly carried out deadly strikes on the Guard, the country’s most powerful military force — including an October suicide bombing that killed more than 40 people. The new attack was a sign that the group is still able to carry out devastating bombings even after Iran hanged its leader Abdulmalik Rigi and his brother earlier this year.
Shi’ite worshipers were attending ceremonies marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hussein, when the first blast went off at the entrance of the mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan. The male bomber was disguised as a woman, local lawmaker Hossein Ali Shahriari told the ISNA news agency.
Inside the mosque, a cleric was reading from the Koran in front of lines of faithful sitting cross-legged on the floor when the building suddenly shook from the blast and screams were heard from outside, according to footage taken at the time and aired on Iranian state TV.
As people rushed to help, the second explosion detonated 20 minutes later, causing the majority of the deaths and injuries, ISNA reported. The technique is often used by Sunni militants in Iraq to maximize casualties.
Members of the Guard were among the worshipers, particularly because the ceremonies coincided with Iran’s official Revolutionary Guard Day. The deputy interior minister, Ali Abdollahi, told the Fars news agency Thursday that several Guard members were among the dead.
Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastagerdi told ISNA yesterday that the toll stood at 27 dead but could still rise, with another 270 injured, including 11 in serious condition.
Iran accuses the United States and Britain of supporting Jundallah in a plot to weaken Tehran clerical leadership, a claim both countries deny.
General Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guard, told worshipers at the main weekly prayers in Tehran that the victims “were martyred by hands of mercenaries of the US and UK.’’
He was echoed by influential lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi who said “America should be answerable for the terrorist incident in Zahedan.’’
President Obama condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that the deaths of innocent civilians in their place of worship is an “intolerable offense’’ and that those responsible for the blasts must be held accountable.
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the suicide bombings saying “this senseless act of terrorism at a place of worship makes it all the more reprehensible,’’ UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Jundallah has been waging an insurgency for years in the remote Sistan-Baluchistan Province, a lawless area where smuggling and banditry are rife. The group says it is fighting for the rights of the mainly Sunni ethnic Baluchi minority, which it says suffers discrimination under Iran’s Shi’ite’s leadership.
Iran executed Jundallah’s leader in June in Zahedan, a month after hanging his brother Abdulhamid Rigi, who had been captured in Pakistan in 2008 and extradited to Iran. The group named a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch.
In a statement posted on its website, Jundallah claimed responsibility for Thursday night’s blast, saying the attack was to avenge Abdulmalik Rigi’s death. It showed pictures of two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests, identified as Mohammad and Mujahid Rigi, apparently members of the leader’s clan, though the site did not specify their relationship to him.
The group said its “sons of the faith . . . carried out tonight a heroic unprecedented operation at the heart of an assembly of the Guard at Zahedan,’’ claiming to have killed more than 100.
Jundallah has repeatedly targeted the Revolutionary Guards. In its deadliest attack, a suicide bomber hit a meeting between Guard commanders and Shi’ite and Sunni tribal leaders in the border town of Pishin on Oct. 18, killing 42 people.