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Iran arrests members of Sunni rebel group: agency

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said on Wednesday it had arrested four members of Jundollah, a Sunni rebel group which Tehran has blamed for bombings and “terrorist” activities in the past, the student news agency ISNA reported.

Jundollah (God’s soldiers) claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Zahedan, capital of the volatile southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, in late May which killed 25 people.

Iran, which is predominantly Shi’ite, has linked Jundollah to the Sunni Islamist al Qaeda network.

ISNA quoted an intelligence ministry statement as saying the four Jundollah members were arrested in Sistan-Baluchestan.

“Four terrorists ... linked to the Rigi group have been arrested ... the group had plans to carry out bombings in several places in Iran,” the statement said.

“A large amount of explosives and weaponry was found in the hiding place of these terrorists.”

Iran hanged 13 members of the group in July for alleged killings and attacks in the southeast. The execution of a brother of Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi was postponed.

Iran accuses the United States of backing Jundollah in order to create instability in the country. Washington denies the charge. Jundollah itself says it is fighting for the rights of the Islamic Republic’s minority Sunnis.

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

Most people in Sistan-Baluchestan are Sunni Muslims and ethnic Baluchis. Close to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the region has been the scene of frequent clashes between security forces and heavily armed drug smugglers.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Iran’s Islamic law, imposed since the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

Writing by Zahra Hosseinian, editing by Tim Pearce