At Least 27 Killed in Suicide Bombing at Iran Mosque

An Iran mosque twin suicide bombing killed at least 27 people Thursday. It is in an event that is expected to intensify tensions between Tehran and Washington, as Iran alleges that the US, UK, and other external powers trained and funded the attackers.

Sunni militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attacks in southeastern Iran on the Shiite mosque. Iranian authorities are investigating the explosions, which also killed members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.

According to the Financial Times, Thursday’s attacks were Jundallah’s attempt to seek revenge for the hanging of Abdolmalik Rigi, the militant group’s former leader, in June.

In an e-mail to Dubai-based al-Arabiya television station, the group claimed that the bombings were targeting members of the Revolutionary Guard present at the mosque in Zahedan (see map).

The back-to-back suicide bombings injured about 270 people, reports the Los Angeles Times:

According to Iranian news agencies, the first suicide bomber, possibly dressed as a woman, tried unsuccessfully to enter the mosque before blowing himself up, killing and injuring several. A second suicide bomber blew himself up 15 minutes later amid a crowd of bystanders and rescue workers attending to the first victims, killing and wounding many more.

A Zahedan-based journalist, Adel Mazari, said 150 of the 270 wounded were severely injured and remained hospitalized. The statement by Jundallah named the suicide bombers as Mohammad Rigi and Abdolbasset Rigi, both members of the late leader’s tribe.

Although Jundallah claimed responsibility for the bombings, The New York Times reports that the Iranian authorities have instead blamed Al Qaeda and CIA-backed militants:

The authorities in Tehran said the insurgents, operating in an area close to the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, are linked to Al Qaeda. But that claim has not been independently corroborated….

Press TV said [Rigi] had “confessed” that the United States had “assured him of unlimited military aid and funding for waging an insurgency against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

But, the broadcaster said, the Jundallah group had been disbanded and was unlikely to have carried out Thursday’s attacks. It blamed hardline Sunni Muslim activists “trained by the CIA.”

According to the Associated Press, the Revolutionary Guard is holding additional external powers responsible for Thursday’s bombings:

Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guard, told worshippers during Tehran Friday prayers that the victims “were martyred by hands of mercenaries of the US and UK.”

He was echoed by influential lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi who said “America should be answerable for the terrorist incident in Zahedan.”

But Washington was quick to disavow the accusations. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a statement issued July 15, said she condemned the attack and extended her sympathy to the families of the victims. She continued:

The United States condemns all forms of terrorism and sectarian-driven violence, wherever it occurs, and stands with the victims of these appalling acts. This attack, along with the recent attacks in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria, underscores the global community’s need to work together to combat terrorist organizations that threaten the lives of innocent civilians all around the world.

Iran has long claimed that western governments, including the US, support ethnic opposition and militant groups in the Sunni majority Sistan-Balochistan province in an attempt to undermine the government in Tehran, reported The Christian Science Monitor:

Rigi’s capture is a coup for authorities in Tehran, who have accused the US and the West of backing rebellious minority factions such as Rigi’s Jundallah – which has called for greater rights for Sunni ethnic Baluchis in majority Shiite Iran – the Kurdish PJAK operating from Iraq in northwest Iran, and Arabs in the south.

Such groups and alleged US, British, and other intelligence and military support for them have been the subject of speculation for years, as Washington spoke openly about conducting “regime change” in Iran during the administration of President George W. Bush.