Iran arrests group for mosque blast, blames West

Thu May 8, 2008 4:11am EDT

TEHRAN May 8 (Reuters) - Iran has arrested members of a terrorist group with links to Britain and the United States who were behind a blast at a mosque last month that killed 14 and wounded 200 in the southern city of Shiraz, a news agency said.

Iranian officials had previously said the April 12 blast, in the Shohada mosque during an evening prayer sermon by a prominent local cleric, was caused by explosives left over from an exhibition commemorating the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

"The blast ... was caused by a bombing by a terrorist group with links to Western countries, especially Britain and America," ISNA news agency quoted Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei as saying late on Wednesday.

Five or six people were arrested, including the main culprit who was trying to flee the country, Mohseni-Ejei said. The group was found with weapons and "intended to carry out similar acts in other places," he said.

"The group, which has relations to Western countries including Britain and America, has carried out other terrorist activities in the country in the past few years," he said.

Tehran has in the past accused Britain and the United States of trying to destabilise the Islamic Republic by supporting rebels, mainly those in sensitive border areas.

Mohseni-Ejei said Iran had handed intelligence about the group to Western nations but they had ignored its appeal for action. "They (those in the group) were even supported," the minister said.

The minister's remarks echo allegations U.S. officials have made about Iranian support for militias in Iraq that have fought U.S. and U.S.-backed government forces there, accusations Tehran denies.

Security is normally tight in Shi'ite Muslim Iran and bomb attacks have been rare in recent years. Several people were killed in 2005 and 2006 in blasts in a southwestern province with a large Sunni Arab population.

Shiraz is a southern city with more than one million inhabitants and is a popular tourist destination. (Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Tim Pearce)