- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

TEHRAN (AP) — A car loaded with explosives blew up today in southeastern Iran near a bus carrying members of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, killing 11 of them and wounding 31. An al Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group reportedly claimed responsibility.

The semiofficial news agency Fars reported that the militant group Jundallah, or God’s Brigade, issued a statement saying it had carried out the blast. However, officials did not confirm the claim, blaming “insurgents and drug-traffickers.”

The bombing was the worst attack in years in the lawless corner of Iran near the border with Pakistan, where drug gangs and militants have carried out past attacks.

Jundallah has been blamed for previous attacks on Iranian troops in the area. The group, which accuses Shi’ite-led Iran of discriminating against Sunni Muslim minorities in the southeastern region, also operates in Pakistan, where authorities have accused it of links to al Qaeda.

The bombing came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran over the crises in Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast. Iran in the past has accused the United States of backing militants in the southeast in order to stir up turmoil in the country. It also has cited such attacks — and bombings in a Sunni-dominated western part of the country — as evidence that Iran is a victim of terrorism.

The attack took place near Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province, when a car packed with explosives pulled to a stop in front of the bus, the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. The car’s occupants fled, and seconds later, the vehicle exploded, the news agency said.

Provincial Gov. Hassan Ali Nouri told IRNA that one of the attackers also was killed in the blast, which he blamed on “elements of insecurity.” IRNA initially reported 18 dead but later corrected that to 11.

State-run television said the bus had been taking the troops to work when the attack took place.

Hossein Ali Shahriyari, a deputy representing Zahedan, told an open session of the parliament that “insurgents and drug traffickers” were behind the attack.

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