x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Bombers who attacked Iranian ceremony 'trained in Pakistan

Iran says terror group that killed 39 people is affiliated with Pakistan intelligence agency.

TEHRAN // The suicide bombers who killed 39 people in an attack on a Shiite ceremony in southern Iran were trained in Pakistan and arrived in the country with the help of Pakistani officials who gave them border passes, Iran claimed yesterday.

The Sunni group Jundullah claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack on mourners outside a mosque in the port city of Chabahar in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan.

The Iranian interior minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said on Wednesday evening: "We are pursuing the matter and have directed some Pakistani officials in this regard. It was agreed that respective cautionary efforts [to prevent infiltration of militants into Iran from Pakistan] should be intensified."

He added security forces had arrested some individuals connected with the attack.

The attack in the province, where the majority of people are Sunni Baluchis, took place during a Shiite ceremony to commemorate the 7th-century death of Imam Hossein, the third Shiite imam and the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.

Jundullah said the attack had been carried out to avenge the death of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi, who was executed in June.

Iran has previously criticised Pakistan's failure in containing the activities and training of Jundullah members in terrorist camps across the Iranian border in Pakistan.

"Pakistan has turned into the backyard of the enemies of Iran," Hosseinali Shahriyari, one of the representatives of Sistan and Baluchistan in the Iranian parliament, told Fars News Agency yesterday.

Speaking to IRNA, the official government news agency, the deputy interior minister Ali Abdollahi alleged that Pakistan had not taken any serious measures to prevent Jundullah militants from crossing into Iran and failed to arrest them while several officials and legislators called on Islamabad to step up its anti-terrorist measures against Jundullah.

"The Pakistani government must take a clear stance" on the terrorists, Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, told IRNA yesterday.

Mr Jalali also called on Iranian authorities to take "practical actions" to make Pakistan deal more seriously with the problem.

IRNA on Wednesday claimed that Jundullah had affiliations with Pakistan's ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence).

"It should be openly announced that the responsibility of any terrorist action including bombings, abductions and assassinations in the east of the country lies with the government of Pakistan and that this neighbouring country must be accountable for them," IRNA wrote in an analysis of the attack.

There was no immediate response from Islamabad.

In televised confessions after his capture by Iran's security forces in February, the Jundullah founder and leader Abdolmalek Rigi said Jundullah militants were trained in camps in Pakistan.

He also said he had been contacted by CIA agents in Pakistan and they had promised to provide his group with military and financial assistance and a training base in Afghanistan near the Iranian border.

Iranian officials and politicians also accuse the US, Israel and Britain of assisting Jundullah to instigate sectarian violence in Sistan and Baluchistan.

"Our enemies long ago incited a religious war in Pakistan and now they want to shift that security crisis into Iran," Molavi Nazir Ahmad Salami, a representative of the province in Iran's powerful Experts Assembly, told IRNA yesterday.

"The groups that carry out such terrorist actions are supported by Israel and the US," he said.

Western powers including Germany, France, Britain and the US condemned the attack.

"I condemn this perfidious attack on innocent faithful in the strongest possible terms," a statement released by the office of Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.

France's foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said France shared in Iran's grief and the US President Barack Obama called it a despicable offence.

"The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offence, and those who carried it out must be held accountable. This is a disgraceful and cowardly act," Mr Obama said in a statement released by his office a few hours after the blast.

The US State Department designated Jundullah as a terrorist organisation in November.