- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

CAIRO — An Islamist militant group kidnapped nine Iranian soldiers near that country’s border with Pakistan, and Al Arabiya said yesterday the group threatened to kill them unless the Tehran government released 16 of its members from prison.

The channel broadcast footage purportedly showing the nine soldiers, who were sitting on the ground in front of a mound of rubble.

The newscaster said a spokesman for the Sunni group, “Jundallah,” or God’s Brigade, had warned the soldiers would be killed unless the government released the group’s members. Iran is predominantly Shi’ite.

Viewers did not hear the spokesman’s voice because the sound on the videotape was muted. The channel quoted the soldiers as appealing to their government to grant their kidnappers’ demand.

A producer at Al Arabiya’s headquarters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said a threat to kill the soldiers was audible on the tape, but the speaker was not shown.

The producer said the channel had edited out “a few disturbing pictures,” including one of the kidnappers holding a knife to a soldier’s neck.

The producer said the channel received the tape yesterday but would not say how it was obtained.

In Tehran, Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was optimistic the soldiers would be freed.

“The case has been reviewed by the country’s Security Council and the investigation is continuing. There is hope that the issue can be solved in a peaceful way,” the minister said.

A person claiming to speak on behalf of Jundallah announced the kidnapping in a call to Al Arabiya on Sunday. The caller said the group had seized the soldiers near the Iranian-Pakistani border in the eastern province of Baluchistan.

The government confirmed the abduction Monday and vowed to do its best to get the soldiers released.

A group with the same name is suspected of numerous terror attacks in Pakistan, but it had not previously been known to operate in Iran.

The eastern part of Iran has been the scene of frequent clashes between police and drug smugglers and related bandits.

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