TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran on Thursday arrested eight people who it says were behind two suicide bomb attacks in the country’s southeast that killed 35 people, state television quoted an Intelligence Ministry official as saying.
The Sunni Muslim rebel group Jundollah claimed responsibility for the blasts outside a mosque on Wednesday during a Shi’ite religious ceremony, saying it was retaliation for the execution of the group’s leader in June.
The death toll reported on Wednesday was 39. It was not immediately known why the toll was put at 35 the following day.
“In a special intelligence operation, Intelligence Ministry personnel succeeded in arresting eight other terrorists behind and related to this crime in ... Sistan-Baluchestan province this morning,” the Islamic Republic’s state television quoted an informed source at the ministry as saying.
The official, who was not named, said such attacks were “guided by the enemies’ intelligence services with the aim of creating insecurity and preventing the economic prosperity of the country’s south-eastern region”.
Earlier on Thursday, a local official said “a terrorist related to the attacks was arrested near the border with Pakistan”, ISNA news agency reported. Iranian officials had said on Wednesday one of the attackers was killed by police and a second one was arrested while trying to flee Iran.
The twin blasts in the town of Chabahar wounded more than 100 people. Iranian media said many of those killed and wounded were women and children.
A judiciary official on Thursday blamed the United States and Britain for the attacks, saying the perpetrators “had direct relations” with the two countries, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar told state television that the attackers were linked to neighbouring Pakistan and that they were trained there.
The deprived province of Sistan-Baluchistan, which shares a border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, has witnessed unrest with the mainly Sunni population claiming discrimination by the Shi’ite authorities.
Iran says Jundollah has links to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of supporting the group to stir instability in southeast Iran, home to Iran’s Sunni minority. The three countries deny backing it.
Iran has been hit by a rash of explosions in the past few months, including two in June that killed 27 people in the same province. Jundollah also claimed responsibility for that attack.
Bombings and clashes involving security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers have increased in recent years in the area.
Iranian leaders reject allegations by Western human rights groups and Jundollah that the Islamic Republic discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Ethnic Baluchs, many with tribal links to their restive kin in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, make up an estimated one to three percent of Iran’s 77 million people.
Editing by Mark Heinrich