Iran blames Sunni extremists, U.S. for deadly mosque bombing
Reporting from Tehran -- Iranian authorities are blaming the United States and Sunni Muslim extremists for the bombing of a mosque Thursday in the country's southeast that left as many as 23 people dead and scores injured during a Shiite Muslim holiday, LAT reported.
The bombing rocked the provincial capital of Zahedan, where emergency vehicles ferried passengers to local hospitals into the night. The ethnically and religiously mixed region bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan has long been the scene of drug trafficking and tribal banditry.
Authorities todayannounced the arrest of three suspects, who allegedly crossed into Iran from the barren desert border with the aim of sowing political and sectarian discord before the June 12 presidential election.
"Evidence shows that these people had direct involvement in the terrorist operation and were linked to enemies outside the borders of the country," said Jalal Sayyah, deputy governor-general of the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, according to a report by the semi-official Fars News Agency. "This group aimed to create religious disputes, intimidate people and undermine elections in the country by their futile action."
Iranian officials offered no evidence today of American involvement, and Washington has strenuously denied previous such allegations.
Members of Iran's Baluch minority, a stateless ethnic group that straddles southeastern Iran, southern Pakistan and Afghanistan, have for years waged an insurgency against the Tehran government, striking targets in and around Zahedan. The Taliban has also infiltrated Baluch regions of Pakistan, especially the major city of Quetta.
Iranian claims of U.S. support for militant groups fighting the central government could undermine the Obama administration's attempts to reach out to the Islamic Republic as a way of resolving long-standing disputes between the two countries, including disagreement over the nature of Iran's nuclear program and Tehran's support for militant groups fighting Israel.
"The hands of America and Israel were undoubtedly involved in this incident," prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told supporters in Tehran. "Although Wahhabis and the infidel and evil Salafists were an accomplice to the crime, they were being led from somewhere else."
Wahhabi and Salafi are puritanical schools of Sunni Islam rooted in Saudi Arabia that inspire Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist network, as well as the Taliban and other groups that denounce adherents of Iran's dominant Shiite Islam sect as infidels.
Khatami is a staunch hard-liner unrelated to former President Mohammad Khatami, who is a moderate.
The U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization are fighting a worsening Taliban insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Thursday's bombing was the among the clearest signs yet that the deepening troubles afflicting neighboring South Asia were spilling into Iran.
The attack coincided with major bombings that killed dozens over the last two days in Pakistan and came days after Iran held a high-level summit to discuss drug trafficking and terrorism with Afghan and Pakistani leaders.