December 6, 2008 / 7:57 AM / 9 years ago

Iran vows to retaliate after rebels kill 16 police

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will give a “tooth-breaking” response to a Sunni Muslim rebel group which has killed 16 policemen it abducted in June, a senior official said in comments broadcast on Saturday.

The official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday that all the seized police had been killed, after they were taken hostage six months ago from a checkpoint in the town of Saravan in Sistan-Baluchestan province bordering Pakistan.

Shi‘ite-dominated Iran says the rebel Jundollah (God’s Soldiers) group, which demanded that Iranian authorities release 200 of its jailed members, has links with al Qaeda.

“We will give a firm and tooth-breaking response to armed rebels in border areas,” Iranian Prosecutor-General Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi was quoted as saying by state radio, without elaborating on what action the Islamic Republic would take.

A member of parliament from Sistan-Baluchestan, Abdulaziz Jamshid-Zehi, said the bodies of the policemen had been found, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

But he said there were 14, not 16 as said by other officials quoted by Iranian media.

“Officials are trying to identify the bodies found and it is as yet not clear when they were martyred,” Jamshid-Zehi said.

Jundollah, which reportedly transferred the hostages to Pakistan after their abduction, had said earlier it had killed four of them.

The rebels operate mainly in Sistan-Baluchestan, home to mostly Sunni ethnic Baluchis and notorious for clashes between security forces and drug smugglers.

In August 2007, Iran accused Jundollah of kidnapping 30 people in the province. The hostages, who were taken to Pakistan, were freed later by Pakistani forces.

Jundollah earlier in 2007 claimed responsibility for an attack on a bus carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guards that killed 11 people.

Iran says the group’s head Abdolmalek Rigi is a leader of the al Qaeda network in Iran.

In an interview in August, Rigi told Al Arabiya television that he was thinking of expanding its operations to defend the rights of Sunni Muslims in the Islamic state. Iran denies Western allegations that it discriminates against minorities.

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

Reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Andrew Roche

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