Iran announced a significant victory in its fight against domestic terror Tuesday with the capture of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of Jundullah, a Sunni insurgent group accused by Tehran of mounting terrorist attacks with the support of the US, Britain and Pakistan.
The Sunni insurgent has claimed responsibility for bombings that have killed scores of Iranians, including five senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guards, in recent years.
Iranian Press TV showed a handcuffed Rigi being escorted by commandos off a small aircraft.
According to one official, Rigi’s plane was forced to land by Iranian aircraft while on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. While other accounts said he had been arrested inside Iran or Pakistan. Al-Jazeera TV reported that he had been handed over by the Pakistan authorities.
Tehran claims Rigi’s capture is a major blow to Britain, America and Israel, which it alleges have been backing Jundullah.
“We are warning America and European countries that the intelligence services of the west should stop support for such groups and their terrorist acts,” said Iran’s intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi. “We have clear documents proving that Rigi was in co-operation with American, Israeli and British intelligence services.”
Moslehi said Rigi had been in an Afghan US military base 24 hours before his arrest and was carrying an Afghan passport supplied by the US. A US official in Washington rejected the claim as “totally bogus”. Moslehi also blamed the BBC and the Voice of America for covering Rigi’s “achievements”.
Al-Alam TV said Rigi had been detained with three other members of his group.
Jundullah operates largely in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, where the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan meet in the “triangle of death”. It is home to a large population of Sunni Baluchis and is a hotbed of Sunni insurgency against the Shia regime, as well as of cross-border drug smuggling.
On al-Arabiyya TV, an Islamabad-based analyst, Bakr Atyani, described the capture as a “serious blow” to the group.
Tehran claims Rigi was responsible for carrying out several attacks, including a bombing in south-east Iran last October, that killed 42 people, among them five Revolutionary Guard commanders. Jundullah also claimed a May 2009 attack on a mosque in Zahedan that killed over 20 people and wounded 50 more.
The US Congress had reportedly agreed to a request by George Bush for $400m to fund to Iranian opposition groups including Jundullah, although Washington denies it supports terrorism.