June 20, 2010 / 5:44 AM / 8 years ago

Iran executes leader of Sunni rebel group

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran hanged the convicted leader of a Sunni Muslim rebel group on Sunday for his involvement in deadly attacks in the Islamic state, state television reported.

Predominantly Shi’ite Muslim Iran arrested Abdolmalek Rigi in February, four months after his Jundollah (God’s soldiers) group claimed a bombing which killed dozens of people, including senior officers of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

“Abdolmalek Rigi was hanged at dawn today...he was convicted for many crimes like being behind many deadly attacks...and killing dozens of innocent people,” state television said.

Iran grapples with ethnic and religious tension in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan where authorities have responded to attacks by Sunni rebels with a spate of hangings. Rights groups and the West have condemned the hangings.

A Tehran Revolutionary court sentenced Rigi to death and the Supreme Court upheld the sentence, the semi-official Fars news agency said, adding that Rigi was executed inside Tehran’s Evin prison in the presence of “the families of some of the victims.”

“Abdolmalek Rigi’s charges also included armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking and the formation and leading of the terrorist Jundollah group,” Fars reported.

Iran says the Sunni group has links to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and accuses Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing Jundollah to create instability in southeast Iran, where many Sunni minority live. The three countries deny the claim.

“Jundollah was linked to members of foreign intelligence services, including members from America and the Zionist regime’s (Israel) intelligence services under the cover of NATO,” the official IRNA news agency quoted a court statement as saying.

“DISGRACEFUL STIGMA”

Iran is at odds with the West over its nuclear programme, which it insists is aimed at generating power and not building bombs as the U.S., its European allies and Israel suspect.

“The hanging showed Iran will not let its territory to be used by criminals...With the execution of Abdolmalek, the disgraceful stigma of our tribe was eliminated,” Bashir Ahmad Rigi, the chief of Rigi’s tribe, was quoted by IRNA as saying.

A leading lawmaker said Iran planned to file a lawsuit at relevant international courts against Britain and the United states for supporting Rigi.

“Based on Rigi’s confessions, America and Britain were backing terrorist acts committed by him in Iran,” said lawmaker Parviz Sorouri, the ILNA news agency reported.

Sistan-Baluchestan is a poor area near Pakistan and Afghanistan. Bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers have increased in recent years.

Iranian leaders reject claims by Western human rights groups that the Islamic Republic discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

Ethnic Baluch, many with tribal links to their restive kin in neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, make up an estimated one to three percent of Iran’s 70 million population.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Diana Abdallah

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