TEHRAN: Iran ramped up pressure on Pakistan today, saying the group accused of launching a deadly suicide attack in the Islamic republic is based on its territory, a charge strongly denied by Islamabad.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that members of the group accused of carrying out the attack on the elite Revolutionary Guards in southeastern Iran regularly criss-cross the frontier between Pakistan and Iran.
“They cross into Iran illegally. They are based in Pakistan,” Mottaki said without naming the group directly.
“The hands of those behind the crimes in southeast Iran must be cut.” Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heyder Moslehi demanded that Pakistan “clarify” its position regarding the
accused group. The shadowy Jundallah (Soldiers of God),
a rebel Sunni group has claimed the bombing.
A leading prosecutor, meanwhile, said three Iranians have been arrested over the attack that struck at the heart of Iran’s security apparatus and that a man who accompanied the suicide bomber was being sought. Mohammad Marziah, prosecutor of Zahedan, the capital of southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province in which the attack took place, announced the arrest of three Iranians, saying they were all suspects. “Due to security reasons, I am not giving the details of their names, but these terrorists are Iranians. The person who accompanied the suicide bomber has not been arrested,” Marziah was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
Officials said 42 people died in the blast in the town of Pisheen in Sistan-Baluchestan, a hotbed of Sunni insurgency against Tehran’s Shiite rule.
Iran’s state television on Tuesday reported that 15 members of the Guards were counted among the dead — up from a previous figure of seven commanders killed.
The attack was the single largest deadly assault on
Iran’s prestigious military
force in recent years.
It has been claimed by Jundallah group led by militant Abdolmalek Rigi which has been waging an insurgency against Tehran for nearly a decade as part of its fight for the rights of the Sunni Baluch population of Sistan-Baluchestan. Intelligence Minister Moslehi demanded that Islamabad clarify its position.
“According to the evidence, the Pakistan intelligence service is linked to the Rigi group and Pakistan has to clarify its position regarding the group,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.
Islamabad said the attack was an attempt to “spoil ties” with Tehran.
“There are forces which are out to spoil our relations with Iran. But our ties are strong enough to counter these machinations,” Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit told AFP in Islamabad. Basit also dismissed allegations that Pakistan was being used a springboard by Jundallah to launch attacks inside Iran. “There is no question given the excellent relations between us that Pakistani territory be allowed to be used for terrorist act against Iran,” he said.
Mottaki and Moslehi were the latest senior Iranian officials to point fingers at Tehran’s friendly neighbour Islamabad.
Immediately after Sunday’s attack, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad charged that elements in Pakistan had played a role in the assault.
Ahmadinejad on Monday
in a telephone call followed up by urging his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari to confront the rebels, saying the “presence of terrorist elements in Pakistan is not justifiable.” The head of the Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari,
said on Monday that Tehran will demand that Pakistan hand over Rigi, who is accused of being the mastermind of
the bombing.
Jafari said a Tehran delegation will head to Pakistan to deliver “proof to them so they know that the Islamic Republic is aware of its (Pakistan’s) support” to the group led by Rigi.
Jafari also charged that Rigi takes orders from the intelligence services of Britain, Pakistan and the United States.
Basit denied that Rigi was
in Pakistan.
“We don’t know the whereabouts of Rigi,” he said. “As Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Rigi is not in Pakistan.” Jundallah, in a statement posted on the Internet, said the aim of Sunday’s operation was to avenge “the wounds of the Baluch people which have been bleeding for years without end.” Jundallah has in recent years repeatedly attacked the Guards, the elite military force set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the Islamic regime from internal and external threats.