Iran captures Sunni militant group leader

TEHRAN:Iran said Tuesday that its security forces have captured the leader of an armed Sunni group whose insurgency in the southeast has destabilized the border region with Pakistan.

The Jundallah group had no immediate comment on the reports that leader Abdulmalik Rigi had been seized. But reports carried by state-run media gave conflicting accounts of his capture.

Lawmaker Mohammad Dehghan told the official IRNA news agency that Rigi was flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Pakistan to an unidentified Arab country when his plane was ordered to land inside Iran. Dehghan gave no details.

State-run English-language Press TV said, without elaborating, that Rigi was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

A state Farsi-language TV report, meanwhile, quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying that Rigi was arrested abroad, then taken to Iran. Najjar did not say how or where Rigi was apprehended, but noted, "the intention was to arrest him alive," the report added.

There was no way to reconcile the various accounts.

Jundallah has claimed responsibility for bombing attacks that have killed dozens in recent years, including five senior commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard in October.

The group, which Iran claims is linked to al-Qaida, gained notice six years ago after it launched a campaign of sporadic attacks and kidnappings. It claims minority Sunni tribes in southeastern Iran suffer discrimination at the hands of Iran's Shiite leadership.

Rigi has said in the past that Jundallah did not seek to break away from Iran but that violence was necessary to draw attention to alleged discrimination.

Iran has accused the U.S. and Britain of supporting Jundallah in an effort to weaken the Iranian government, a charge they both deny.

Press TV quoted Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi as saying that Rigi was spotted at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his arrest.

State radio said Moslehi accused the U.S. of providing Rigi with an identity card and passport from an unidentified country. State television's Web site published photos of Pakistani and Afghan identity cards bearing Rigi's photo.

Pakistani authorities repeatedly had claimed Rigi was hiding in Afghanistan. At the same time, they say they have been cooperating with Iran and have handed over a dozen suspected militants in recent months, including Rigi's brother Abdulhamid Rigi.

Abdulhamid Rigi had been scheduled to be hanged in July but his execution was postponed without explanation.