Suicide bomber kills 5 Revolutionary Guard commanders in Iran
TEHRAN -- At least five senior commanders in Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and more than 20 tribal leaders and others were killed by a suicide bomber Sunday in the deadliest attack against the Islamic regime in more than two decades.
The deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces, Nourali Shoushtari, was among those killed. The attack in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, highlights the pressures facing the government at a critical time in its nuclear negotiations with the West. It also will raise speculation that Iran's ethnic and religious minorities are seeking to take advantage of unrest in the wake of June's disputed presidential election.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose reelection in June prompted mass opposition protests in the capital, accused unspecified foreigners of complicity. "The criminals will soon get the response for their anti-human crimes," he said, according to Iran's official news agency.
In Washington, a spokesman for the State Department condemned the "act of terrorism" and rejected claims of U.S. involvement as "completely false."
Iran's state television reported only sketchy details of the incident. It said Jundallah, a Pakistan-based radical Sunni group that seeks independence for Iran's ethnic Baluchis, asserted responsibility for the explosion and also blamed Britain's "overt and hidden hand in terrorist attack against Iran."
According to some domestic news agencies, a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his waist blew himself up in a hall in the border town of Pishin, where the Revolutionary Guard commanders and local tribal leaders were due to meet for a conference on the unity of Shiites and members of the Sunni minority. A report said the blast occurred at the inauguration of the Local Achievements Exhibition in Pishin that was being attended by the senior commanders and heads of tribes before their meeting.
Iranian state television said 42 people were killed and dozens were wounded in Sunday's attack, Reuters reported. Domestic news Web sites speculated that as many as 60 people were killed, including 20 senior Revolutionary Guard commanders.
Jundallah, which Iran alleges is supported by U.S. and British intelligence services, has carried out a series of attacks on government officials and military personnel in recent years. However, Sunday's attack was far more ambitious than previous assaults. The commander of the Guard in Sistan-Baluchistan, Rajabali Mohammad-Zadeh, was among those killed.
Iran's elite force took over the security in Sistan-Baluchistan province a few years ago in a bid to establish calm in Iran's most troubled region. It is not only home to dissident ethnic and religious minorities but also the main transit route for drug trafficking.
"The main objective is to damage national unity and create a Shiite-Sunni rift," said political analyst Amir Mohebbian. He said the Iranian people awaited President Obama's condemnation of the terrorist act. "The USA needs to offer more proof that it doesn't support these terrorist groups," he said.
Tabnak, a conservative Web site, said the bombing was the most deadly attack on senior commanders since the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
The porous nature of Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan allows separatist Baluchis and groups linked to al-Qaeda to cross the border easily. An increase in the activity by al-Qaeda in Pakistan has also made Iran more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by radical Sunnis who consider Shiite-dominated Iran a sworn enemy.
-- Financial Times
Washington Post special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoei contributed to this report.