Iran Accuses U.S., Britain In Fatal Blast

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 9, 2008

TEHRAN, May 8 -- Iran's Intelligence Ministry has accused the United States and Britain of involvement in an April 12 bomb attack at a religious center in the city of Shiraz that killed at least 12 people and wounded 202.

The suspects "have ties to the U.S. and Great Britain," Intelligence Minister Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei told local reporters on Wednesday. "Iran's Foreign Ministry had previously notified these countries, but no action was taken to prevent their terrorist activities, and they were instead supported," he said, referring to the suspects.

"We had nothing to do with it," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington. Britain has also denied such accusations in the past.

The main suspect was arrested at an airport in a province around the Caspian Sea, carrying weapons and cyanide, Ejei said. Five other people have been arrested, he said. The group that organized the attack was formed years ago and was planning to carry out more bombings in Iran, he said.

Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi said the suspects were "monarchists," referring to supporters of the family of the last shah of Iran, who fled the country during the 1979 revolution. Former crown prince Reza Pahlavi lives in the United States and promotes a change of government in Iran.

The ex-monarch's family still has supporters in Iran, but they are not known to be politically active.

"This was a conspiracy by the enemies of the great nation of Iran, the monarchists," Pourmohammadi said at a news conference at the blast site Wednesday, state media reported.

"They get aid from those countries who claim they are supporters of human rights, who say they defend the rights of nations and are anti-terrorism. Their centers are in those countries; those countries give them radios, TVs and support."

There are many Iranian opposition television stations broadcasting mainly from the United States.

Satellite dishes in Iran are regularly taken by police to prevent people from watching those channels, many of which promote the former royal family as an alternative to Iran's current leaders. The United States funds some Iranian opposition media, but none of those openly supports the late shah's relatives.

Bombings in central Iran, where Shiraz is located, are rare. The April 12 blast was originally reported as a bombing, but the next day the intelligence minister called it an accident attributed to ordnance stored in the building after an exhibition about the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

There have been bombings in border areas, carried out mostly by small separatist groups. Iran has blamed the United States and Britain in the past for assisting these groups, without providing evidence.

The Shiraz explosion occurred during a sermon organized by a group called Rahpouyan Vesal, which has been sharply critical of the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam and of the Bahai faith.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company