World News

Iran arrests members of Sunni rebel group: report

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has arrested three members of a Sunni Muslim rebel group who it says had played “a major role” in a deadly mosque explosion in the southeast of the country, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday.

More than 20 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, were killed and 100 others were wounded in two suicide attacks at Zahedan’s Grand mosque in July.

“These three terrorists had illegally entered a neighboring country before they carried out this blind act... and had received the necessary training for their anti-security activities there,” IRNA quoted a senior local official as saying.

The unnamed official said the three who were members of the group Jundollah, or God’s soldiers, had played “a major role” in the Zahedan mosque bombing, according to IRNA.

In May 2009, a bombing in a crowded Shi’ite mosque in Zahedan killed 30 people and wounded more than 120. A few days after the blast, Iran executed in public three men convicted of involvement in the mosque attack.

Jundollah, whose leader Abdolmalek Rigi was executed in June for involvement in various deadly attacks in the Islamic state, claimed responsibility for both blasts.

Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province which shares a border with Pakistan.

Mainly Shi’ite Muslim Iran is grappling with ethnic and religious tension in the area, where authorities have responded to attacks by Sunni rebels with a spate of hangings that have been condemned by rights groups and the West.

Iran says Jundollah has links to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and in the past has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing Jundollah to create instability in southeast Iran. The three countries have denied this.

Iranian leaders reject claims by Western human rights groups that the Islamic Republic discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

Ethnic Baluch, many with tribal links to their restive kin in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan, make up an estimated one to three percent of Iran’s 70 million. (Editing by Jon Boyle)