TEHRAN, Dec 15, 2010 (AFP) – A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite religious procession in the Iranian city of Chabahar on Wednesday, killing 33 people and wounding 83 in an attack claimed by Sunni rebel group Jundallah.
The United States and United Nations led international condemnation of the attack, which Iran said originated from a Jundallah (Army of God) base in neighbouring Pakistan.
Chabahar Prefect Ali Bateni said “33 people were killed and another 83 wounded” in what was the worst attack recorded against Shiite ceremonies.
The bomber struck in a central square as worshippers took part in a procession marking the eve of the last day of Ashura, Red Crescent official Mahmoud Mozafar told the ILNA news agency.
“An individual walked up to some Red Crescent ambulances and blew himself up.”
The governor of Sistan-Baluchestan province, Ali Mohammad Azad, said: “Two terrorists were killed, one in the explosion and the second by police.”
Bateni said a third “terrorist” was later arrested. An intelligence official said he was captured near the border with Pakistan while attempting to flee the country.
“There were two terrorists who were spotted before they carried out their attack but one of them managed to detonate his explosive vest,” Bateni told IRNA.
“The ringleader of this terrorist action has been arrested.”
Ashura is one of the high points of the Shiite calendar when large crowds of worshippers gather in mosques across predominantly Shiite Iran.
But unlike most of the rest of the country, Chabahar’s province of Sistan-Baluchestan has a significant Sunni community and has seen persistent unrest in recent years by Jundallah militants.
The group claimed the attack as revenge for the hanging of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi in June.
“This operation was a revenge for the hanging of the head of the movement Abdolmalek and other members of Jundallah,” the group said on its website junbish.blogspot.com.
“Tens of guards (members of the elite Revolutionary Guards) and mercenaries have been killed. The operation was carried out to expose the aggressors in Baluchestan.”
Jundallah, which says it is championing the rights of the province’s large Sunni ethnic Baluchi community, has claimed many deadly attacks on security forces over the past decade and assaults that have led to civilian deaths.
Iran has cracked down hard on the group.
In July, Jundallah claimed an attack on the Grand Mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan that targeted Revolutionary Guards and killed 28 people.
Last month, the United States officially designated Jundallah a foreign terrorist organisation. That drew a cautious welcome from Iran, which had previously accused Washington of supporting the group.
Iranian officials renewed the charge on Wednesday.
The head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, accused the “intelligence services of the United States and Britain” of being behind the attack, the ISNA news agency reported.
Deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi said the “equipment used shows that they are terrorists supported by the intelligence services of the region and the US,” IRNA said.
For his part, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar said “a group of terrorists, trained and based on the other side of the border, in Pakistan, committed this attack.”
US President Barack Obama said in a statement: “I strongly condemn the outrageous terrorist attack … The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offense.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the attack and extended condolences to the families of the victims.
“The United States condemns all forms of terrorism and sectarian-driven violence, wherever it occurs, and we stand with the victims of these abhorrent and reprehensible acts,” she said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon was “shocked and dismayed” and strongly condemned the “abhorrent terrorist act,” his spokesman said.
British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said London “strongly condemns this atrocity,” while France’s foreign ministry said it shared Iran’s grief after it “was again plunged into mourning by particularly odious terrorism.”