TEHRAN // Six "criminals" have been killed in clashes with security forces in Iran's south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, a day after twin suicide bombings in the region, police said yesterday. The six were killed on Friday in three different incidents which occurred in the border areas of the province, Iran's deputy police chief, Ahmad Reza Radan, told ISNA news agency.
Iran blamed the West and Israel for the bombings that killed at least 27 people, despite condemnation of the attack by the European Union, United Nations and United States. Iranian police, meanwhile, arrested 40 people for "creating disturbances" in the south-eastern city of Zahedan where the bombers struck on Thursday, the Mehr news agency reported. "This blind terrorist act was carried out by the mercenaries of the world arrogance [the Western powers]," state television's website quoted the deputy interior minister, Ali Abdollahi, as saying.
"The agents of this crime were trained and equipped beyond our borders and then came into Iran," Mr Abdollahi said. The influential legislator Alaeddin Borujerdi went a step further and pointed the finger at Pakistan's intelligence services, which he said "have ties with the terrorists", Fars quoted him as saying. "The terrorists enter Iran from neighbouring countries and Pakistan, and so the Pakistani government and its army intelligence must revise their ties with them and do something to confront these criminals."
The Sunni militant group Jundallah has said it carried out the bombings, which targeted members of the Revolutionary Guard at a Shiite mosque in Zahedan, capital of the restive province of Sistan-Baluchestan. It said the attacks were to avenge the execution of their leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, on June 20. Jundallah claims it is fighting for the rights of Baluchis who make up a significant proportion of the population of Sistan-Baluchestan province and who, unlike Iran's Shiite majority, mainly follow the Sunni branch of Islam. The province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and analysts says Jundallah has exploited the unrest in the region to find safe haven on the frontier.
The parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, directly accused the United States for the bombings. "Today, the country is mourning the tragic explosion in Zahedan which was done with the backing of Americans. Americans can't come up with any excuse since they are connected with the Rigi group," he said, quoted on the website. Crowds of mourners gathered in Zahedan yesterday for a mass funeral for the bombings' victims. They assembled outside the city's Jamia mosque where the bombers struck for a procession to the main cemetery.
"Those who committed these terrorist acts are neither Shiite nor Sunni," read one banner carried by the mourners, while crowds chanted: "Death to terrorists," the official IRNA news agency reported. Tehran has long charged that Washington has provided support to the Rigi group as part of efforts to destabilise the Islamic regime by fomenting unrest among ethnic minorities in sensitive border areas.
But the US president, Barack Obama, has condemned the "outrageous terrorist attacks", while the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, blasted a "senseless act of terrorism" and the EU foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, condemned the "cowardly terrorist attacks". Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, the interior minister, pointed the finger at Israel, Iran's arch-foe. "The terrorist act by the Zionists had a number of objectives, including creating division between Shiites and Sunnis," the ISNA news agency quoted Mr Najjar as saying.
He said Iran's security and intelligence services now had "a grip on the situation". But the MP Abbas Ali Noora from Sistan-Baluchestan resigned in protest at the handling of security in the province, saying such an attack was expected after the execution of Rigi. "The culture of this region is of revenge. After Rigi's execution, we had warned that this group would retaliate," he told ILNA news agency.
Mr Noora was the second MP from the region to resign, following the example of the Zahedan parliamentarian Hossein Ali Shahriari who stepped down shortly after the attack. * Agence France-Presse