TEHRAN (Reuters) - At least 21 people, including elite Revolutionary Guards, were killed and 100 wounded in two suicide bomb attacks at a prominent Shi’ite Muslim mosque in the southeast Iranian city of Zahedan on Thursday, Iranian media reported.
The Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundollah said it was behind the attacks, telling Al Arabiyeh television in an email that it had carried them out in retaliation for Iran’s execution in June of the group’s leader, Abdolmalek Rigi.
Rigi was hanged after being convicted of carrying out other deadly attacks. Jundollah says it is fighting for the rights of Iran’s Sunni Muslim minority.
The suicide bombings took place near Zahedan’s Grand Mosque, and Jundollah said they were carried out by relatives of Rigi and were aimed at a Revolutionary Guards gathering.
“The group said the suicide attacks were carried out by Abdolbaset Rigi and Mohammad Rigi ... and warned of more operations to come,” Al Arabiya said.
“In the two explosions in Zahedan more than 20 people were killed and over 100 were injured,” Fariborz Rashedi, head of the emergency unit at Sistan-Baluchestan province, told the official IRNA news agency.
It later quoted Zahedan prosecutor Mohammad Marzieh as saying that 21 people had died.
Iran’s deputy Interior Minister in charge of security, Ali Abdollahi, said “a number of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were killed and injured,” Fars reported.
IRNA said the second attack was so strong that “body parts were scattered around the Grand Mosque.”
Predominantly Shi’ite Muslim Iran arrested Rigi in February, four months after Jundollah claimed responsibility for a bombing which killed dozens of people, including 15 members of the Guards. It was the deadliest attack in Iran since the 1980s.
Zahedan is the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province which shares a border with Pakistan. The province faces serious security problems and there are frequent clashes between police and drug dealers and bandits.
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.
All three countries have denied this, and Jundollah denies having any links with al Qaeda.
“Confessions of Abdolmalek Rigi prove that America, Israel and some European countries are directly involved in the attacks,” said Guards official Yadollah Javadi, Fars reported.
“The enemies of our country try to create conflicts between Shi’ites and Sunnis.”
In May 2009, a suicide bomber killed 30 people and wounded more than 120 in an attack on a mosque in Zahedan.
Iran is grappling with ethnic and religious tension in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, where authorities have responded to attacks by Sunni rebels with a spate of hangings. Rights groups and the West have condemned the hangings.
Iran rejects allegations by rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Writing by Parisa Hafezi, editing by Tim Pearce