Dozens Killed In Suicide Bombing Near Iran Mosque
A suicide attack on a mosque in one of Iran's most unstable regions has left at least 38 people dead and dozens more injured as the country prepared to mark one of its holiest annual religious festivals.
The blast, in the town of Chabahar in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, devastated the Imam Hossein Mosque and killed worshippers taking part in a procession marking the run-up to the Shi'ite Ashura ceremony, which commemorates the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein.
Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni militant group which has carried out many similar attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan, said it was responsible, according to Al Arabiya television.
Local reports said the dead included women and children. At least 50 were reported injured. Press TV, Iran's state-owned English language news channel, put the death toll at 38 and said there had been bomb threats leading up to the attack.
Some accounts said there had been twin explosions caused by two suicide bombers. But this was contradicted by the Chabahar official, Ali Bateni, who said there had been only a single blast.
Another official, Mahmud Mozafar, was quoted by the semi-official news agency ILNA as saying the bomber had blown himself up next to a group of Red Crescent ambulances.
The attack was the latest in a spate claimed by Jundallah in recent years in a campaign waged against what it sees as oppression of Sistan-Baluchistan's Sunni Baluch-speaking population by Iran's Shi'ite, Persian-speaking establishment.
Last month, the U.S. State Department named Jundallah as a foreign terrorist organization, drawing a cautious welcome from Tehran, which has previously accused the United States and Britain of supporting the group.
In July 2010, the organization took responsibility for an attack on the grand mosque of Zahedan, Sistan-Baluchistan's provincial capital, which killed 28 people. The attack was carried out in retaliation for the execution of Jundallah's leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, the previous month.
In October 2009, a suicide bomber dispatched by the group killed more than 40 people -- including at least six senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) -- in Sistan-Baluchistan's Pishin area.
Sistan-Baluchistan, one of Iran's poorest provinces, has long been a transit route for drugs traffickers from neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan. More than 4,000 Iranian security force personnel are believed to have been killed in armed clashes with traffickers since 1979.
Today's attack is the second year running that Iran's Ashura commemorations have been marred by violence. At least nine people were killed last year in Tehran and other cities in bloody clashes between security forces and demonstrators protesting against the crackdown imposed after the disputed 2009 presidential election.
On November 29, one of Iran's leading nuclear scientists was killed in an apparent targeted assassination on the streets of Tehran. Another atomic scientist was wounded on the same day in a separate incident. Iran has blamed those attacks on Israel and the West, which suspect Tehran's nuclear program to be aimed at producing an atomic bomb.
written by Robert Tait, with agency reports
Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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