- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

TEHRAN — A car bomb killed 11 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards yesterday in the deadliest attack in years near the Pakistani border, and Iran accused the United States of backing militants to destabilize the country.

A Sunni Muslim militant group called Jundallah, or God’s Brigade, which has been blamed for past attacks on Iranian troops, claimed responsibility for the bombing, according to the semiofficial Fars news agency.

An al Qaeda-linked group of the same name has carried out attacks in neighboring Pakistan. Iranian officials say the militants in southeast Iran find a safe haven in Pakistan, but it is not clear whether the two groups are connected. Pakistani officials say they are not.

The bombing occurred 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.

Tensions between the United States and Iran have heightened over the crises in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Iran 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 the vehicle exploded seconds later, 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.

Soltan Ali Mir, a local Interior Ministry official, said five of those behind the explosion were arrested, IRNA reported. It did not say how many were involved.

Zahedan and its surroundings, which lie near Iran’s borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan, have been the scene of clashes between police and drug smugglers in the past.

Three small explosions injured two persons in Zahedan in June, but yesterday’s explosion was the deadliest in years.

In December, Jundallah claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven Iranian soldiers in the region, threatening to kill them unless Jundallah members held in Iranian prisons were released. Iranian security forces reported a month later that the seven had been freed.

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