The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards today vowed to take revenge against Britain and the United States whom he claims backed the group that killed six commanders.
Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Guards commander-in-chief, said that he had seen documents indicating direct ties between Jundollah, which carried out yesterday’s suicide bombing in southern Iran, and the US, British and “unfortunately” the Pakistani intelligence organisations. The explosion killed 42 people.
The incident threatens to overshadow talks between Iran and global powers in Vienna today about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“Behind this scene are the American and British intelligence apparatus and there will have to be retaliatory measures to punish them,” Mr Jafari said, according to the ISNA news agency.
“(Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi) himself and his plans are undoubtedly under the umbrella and the protection of these organisations… He is supported by them and without doubt he is acting under their orders and plans.”
Analysts say that in the latest atrocity, condemned by both the US and Britain, suspicions of foreign involvement have been aroused because of the accuracy of Jundollah’s intelligence that enabled it to target yesterday’s meeting of senior Guards officers and tribal leaders in Sistan-Baluchestan province, killing the deputy head of the Guards’ ground forces.
The suicide bomber detonated his bomb vest at the gate of a sports complex in the town of Pisheen as delegates arrived for a meeting to promote rapprochement between Sunnis and Shias. Two of the dead were employees of the state broadcaster IRIB, the company said.
General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Guards’ ground forces, told Iranian television that the bombers were trained by the West.
“The base of the terrorists and rebels has not been in Iran. They are trained by America and Britain in some of the neighbouring countries,” he said.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran has phoned Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani President, asking him to help find the perpetrators of the attack who he said were in Pakistan and needed to be “quickly confronted”.
“Iran and Pakistan have a brotherly relationship but the presence of terrorist elements in Pakistan is not justifiable,” Mr Ahmadinejad told Mr Zardari. “The Pakistani government should help to quickly arrest these criminals so they can punished.”
General Jafari said he was sending an Iranian delegation to Pakistan to deliver proof that Islamabad was supporting Rigi. “The delegation will ask for him (Rigi) to be handed over,” he said.
The United States, Pakistan and Britain have all condemned the bombing and denied involvement.
“We reject in the strongest terms any assertion that this attack has anything to do with Britain,” said a Foreign Office spokeswoman. “Terrorism is abhorrent wherever it occurs.”
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said: “Pakistan is not involved in terrorist activities… we are striving to eradicate this menace.”
The underdeveloped desert province of Sistan-Baluchestan on Iran’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan has frequently been the scene of clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and heavily-armed drug smugglers carrying heroin from Afghanistan.
Jundollah says it is fighting to end discrimination against Sunnis and ethnic Baluchs by mainstream Shia Iran. It has been blamed for many attacks since 2005, including an attack on a Shia mosque in May that left 25 people dead.
Yesterday’s bombing has raised tension ahead of talks at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna today on defusing the international standoff over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.
One plan is for Iran to send uranium for its domestic power and medical isotopes programmes abroad for further enrichment.
Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said that Tehran would carry out the supplementary enrichment itself if there was no agreement in its talks with Russia, France and the United States.
Iran has claimed in the past that Jundollah members have been operating out of Pakistan. Some analysts believe Jundollah has evolved through shifting alliances with the Taleban and Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service, which has backed armed Sunni Muslim groups in the past, particularly in Afghanistan.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have nonetheless been generally good in recent years and they are cooperating on plans for a natural gas pipeline.