Iran Sunni rebel says U.S. offered him military aid: report

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The leader of a Sunni Muslim rebel group has “confessed” that the United States promised to provide him with financial and military aid if he agreed to work with them, Iranian state television reported on Friday.

This frame grab released February 23, 2010 from Iranian state TV shows Sunni Muslim rebel leader Abdolmalek Rigi under armed guard following his arrest. REUTERS/Reuters TV

Abdolmalek Rigi was arrested on Tuesday in Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan and Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said he was at a U.S. military base before being taken into custody by the Islamic state.

The Pentagon on Thursday rejected as “propaganda” Iran’s claims that Washington had links to Rigi’s rebel group Jundollah and denied his presence at an American base.

In footage broadcast on Iranian television, Rigi said an American agent had promised “finances, military aid, arms and ammunitions as well as a military base in Afghanistan close to the Iranian borders” if he cooperated.

Predominantly Shi’ite Iran has linked Jundollah (God’s soldiers) to the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda network and accuses Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing the rebel group to destabilize the country, a charge the countries deny.

Jundollah, which accuses the Iranian government of discrimination against Sunnis, has been blamed for many deadly incidents over the last few years.

The group said it was behind an October 18 attack, the deadliest in Iran since the 1980s, that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 from the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s Prosecutor-General Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei said on Friday it was still too early to say when and where Rigi would go on trial, but a judiciary official said his trial would be open and might be held in Tehran, ISNA news agency reported.

The Islamic state hanged 13 members of the group last July and one on November 3 for alleged killings and attacks in the southeast region that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. The execution of a brother of Rigi was postponed.

Sectarian violence is relatively rare in Iran, whose leaders reject allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

Many minority Sunnis live in the desert area, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.

Editing by Noah Barkin