- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

TEHRAN | Iran said Tuesday that its security forces have captured the leader of an armed Sunni group whose insurgency in the southeast has destabilized the border region with Pakistan.

The Jundallah group had no immediate comment on the reports that leader Abdulmalik Rigi had been seized. But reports carried by state-run media gave conflicting accounts of his capture.

Lawmaker Mohammad Dehghan told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Mr. Rigi was flying over the Persian Gulf en route from Pakistan to an unidentified Arab country when his plane was ordered to land inside Iran. Mr. Dehghan gave no details.

State-run English-language Press TV said, without elaborating, that Mr. Rigi was captured on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

A report by the state-owned Farsi-language TV, meanwhile, quoted Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar as saying that Mr. Rigi was arrested abroad, then taken to Iran. Mr. Najjar did not say how or where Mr. Rigi was apprehended, but noted, “the intention was to arrest him alive,” the report added.

There was no way to reconcile the various accounts.

Jundallah has claimed responsibility for bombing attacks that have killed dozens in recent years, including five senior commanders of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard in October.

The group, which Iran claims is linked to al Qaeda, gained notice six years ago after it launched a campaign of sporadic attacks and kidnappings. It claims minority Sunni tribes in southeastern Iran suffer discrimination at the hands of Iran’s Shi’ite leadership.

Mr. Rigi has said in the past that Jundallah did not seek to break away from Iran but that violence was necessary to draw attention to purported discrimination.

Iran has accused the U.S. and Britain of supporting Jundallah in an effort to weaken the Iranian government, a charge they both deny.

Press TV quoted Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi as saying that Mr. Rigi was spotted at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his arrest.

State radio said Mr. Moslehi accused the U.S. of providing Mr. Rigi with an identity card and passport from an unidentified country. State television’s Web site published photos of Pakistani and Afghan identity cards bearing Mr. Rigi’s photo.

Pakistani authorities repeatedly had claimed Mr. Rigi was hiding in Afghanistan. At the same time, they say they have been cooperating with Iran and have handed over a dozen suspected militants in recent months, including Mr. Rigi’s brother Abdulhamid Rigi.

Abdulhamid Rigi had been scheduled to be hanged in July but his execution was postponed without explanation.

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