Tehran to demand Pakistan hand over alleged attack mastermind
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Sunni group Jundallah claimed responsibility for Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing in south-eastern Iran. An Iranian delegation will head to Pakistan to demand custody of the bombing's planner.
An Iranian delegation will be heading to neighbouring Pakistan to demand that Pakistan hand over a rebel leader that Tehran accuses of masterminding Sunday’s deadly suicide bombing, an Iranian news agency reported on Monday, as tensions between the two countries mounted.
A day after the attack in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province killed 42 people, including senior officials of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian ISNA news agency announced that the Iranian delegation will deliver "proof” of Pakistan’s support for the militant group suspected of carrying out Sunday’s attack.
According to Iranian media reports, Jundullah, a Baluchi insurgent group, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Iran accuses Pakistani agents – as well as US and British intelligence - of having links with Jundullah chief, Abdolmalek Rigi.
Speaking to the ISNA news agency on Monday, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, said the Iranian delegation “will ask for him (Rigi) to be handed over" to Iran.
The announcement followed a phone conversation late Sunday between Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik and his Iranian counterpart when the Pakistani official insisted that Rigi was not in Pakistan.
A rugged border region straddling three countries
A rugged region that is home to numerous Baluchi tribes, Baluchistan extends across the border regions of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trading routes between Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province and Pakistan’s Baluchistan province have historically been used by tribes on either side of the border.
Jundullah – or Soldiers or God – is a Sunni Muslim insurgent group that claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunni Muslims in Shiite-dominated Iran.
Hours after the attack, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Pakistani security agents of cooperating with militants in the Pakistani part of Baluchistan.
"We were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident,” the semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. “We regard it as our right to demand these criminals from them."
Reporting from Beirut, Delphine Minoui, the Middle East correspondent for French daily Le Figaro, told FRANCE 24 that Sunday’s attack was an example of the “volatile relationship in the region” between the Sunni and Shiite communities.
‘Ghastly act of terrorism’
In a statement released late Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the "ghastly act of terrorism".
Iranian officials periodically accuse the US and Britain of fomenting unrest in the Sunni areas of Iran. Washington and London have denied Iranian accusations of involvement in Sunday’s attack.
Analysts believe Jundullah has had shifting alliances with various Islamist militant groups, which have had – or continue to have – ties with Pakistan's shadowy ISI intelligence agency.
“Experts are telling us that we can consider the involvement of Pakistani agents a possibility because Jundullah is a small group that may have needed some sort of external support in the past,” said Minoui.
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