World News

Iran arrests bomb suspects, police say U.S. link

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has arrested some 65 men suspected of being behind a deadly bombing that killed members of the elite Revolutionary Guards in a southeastern border province, the student news agency ISNA said on Friday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

It quoted the local police chief as saying the suspects had clear links to U.S. and British intelligence services. The claim comes at a time when the United States has accused Iranian groups of involvement in the war in Iraq.

A booby-trapped car blew up a bus owned by the Guards on Wednesday, killing at least 11 people in the city of Zahedan, the capital of the Sistan-Baluchestan province which has been the center of low-level unrest over the past months.

The attack was claimed by a shadowy Sunni militant group, Jundallah (God’s soldiers), which Iran has said was linked to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network. Tehran has blamed Jundallah for past killings in the area bordering Pakistan.

“Security forces have arrested some 65 suspects in Zahedan ... They are linked to the terrorist Jundallah group,” local police commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ghafari was quoted by ISNA as saying.

Iran has accused Britain and the United States of supporting ethnic minority rebels operating in the sensitive border areas to destabilize the country.

“Our investigations clearly shows their connection to American and British intelligence organizations and also to groups opposed to the Islamic republic,” Ghafari said.

Iranian officials said on Wednesday that five of those behind the bombing, including the key suspect, were arrested by security forces.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted an unnamed official on Friday as saying those behind the bombing had received training from the United States to create ethnic divisions in Iran.

“I joined Jundallah three months ago ... and entered Iran from a neighboring country to carry out terrorist acts. I received trainings in Pakistan,” IRNA quoted the key suspect Nasrollah Shamsi Zehi as saying.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency also quoted an unnamed official as saying that “explosives used by the terrorists in Zahedan were American made”.

The upsurge in unrest in Sistan-Baluchestan also follows violence in Iran’s oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, which has a minority Arab population.

Bombs killed six people in the provincial capital of Ahvaz and wounded nearly 100 in October 2005. Another double bombing in January 2006 killed eight and wounded 46.