TEHRAN (Reuters) - Fifteen members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were among those killed in Sunday’s suicide bombing in the Islamic Republic’s volatile southeast, state radio reported on Tuesday.
Iranian media had previously said six senior Guards commanders were among the 42 people killed in the deadliest such attack in Iran since its 1980-88 war with Iraq, without saying how many other Guards died. Tribal chiefs and other civilians also died in the bombing.
“The number of Revolutionary Guards martyred ... in the terrorist incident in Sistan-Baluchestan province is fifteen,” state radio said. It said the Guards would hold a ceremony in Tehran later on Tuesday to bid farewell to them.
The deputy head of the Guards’ ground forces, General Nourali Shoushtari, and its commander in Sistan-Baluchestan province, General Rajabali Mohammadzadeh, were among the dead.
Iranian media say a Sunni rebel group, Jundollah (God’s soldiers), has claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Iran, mainly Shi’ite Muslim, says the group is backed by the United States and Britain and has suggested it has links with majority Sunni Pakistan. London, Washington and Islamabad have denied involvement.
The attack highlighted deepening instability in a southeastern region bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many minority Sunnis live in the impoverished area, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and heavily armed drug traffickers.
Iranian police chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moghaddam said Sunday’s incident was mainly of “foreign origin” and showed traces of Western intelligence organizations, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.
“There will have to be special security plans implemented in Sistan-Baluchestan, and neighboring countries will have to feel responsible. Together we will have to take a decision to confront rebels, terrorists and smugglers,” he said.
The Revolutionary Guards is an elite force seen as fiercely loyal to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It handles security in key border areas and its power and resources have increased in recent years.
Jundollah, which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis in the remote desert region, has been blamed for many deadly incidents over the last few years.
The group claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in May that killed 25 people in the same region, and says it is fighting for the rights of Iran’s minority Sunnis.
Iran rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Reporting by Hashem Kalantari and Fredrik Dahl; editing by Tim Pearce