TEHRAN, (Reuters) – A booby-trapped car blew up a bus owned by the Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, killing 18 people in a border city in southeast Iran where security forces and drug smugglers often clash, Iran’s IRNA news agency said.
The semi-official Fars News Agency said Jundollah (God’s soldiers), a group Iran has linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility. The group has been blamed for past kidnappings and killings in the area.
Fars and other agencies put the toll lower than the 18 cited by IRNA. An official in Zahedan, the city where the bomb struck, said the number of deaths was not yet clear. One aid worker was quoted as saying the carnage made it difficult to count bodies.
The bomb was hidden in a car and exploded as the bus, belonging to a unit that transports employees of the Guards, passed by, IRNA reported. It was not clear if those killed were members of the Guards. “In this act 18 Zahedan citizens have been martyred. Rebels and those who create insecurity martyred these people in a terrorist act by laying a trap close to a bus,” Qassim Rezai, a military commander, was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Iran’s student news agency ISNA said 11 were killed and 31 were injured in the incident that happened around 6.30 a.m. (0300 GMT).
Pictures from the scene showed crowds of people surrounding a mangled wreck of metal with only the back of the bus in a clearly recognisable shape.
A spokesman in the Zahedan governor’s office said he was still waiting for figures on the number killed. “Four people have been arrested for involvement with the bombing,” he told Reuters without giving further details.
Four people were in the car which appeared to be broken down on the road, Fars said. When the bus approached, the four fled on motorbikes parked nearby and the car exploded. “A group called Jundollah, under the leadership of Abdolmalek Rigi, the eastern rebels in the country, … took responsibility for this terrorist act,” Fars reported.
Iran has said Jundollah, a shadowy Sunni Muslim group, was behind the murder of 12 people in a roadside attack in May, and other incidents. Officials previously said Rigi was a cell leader of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network in Iran.
Zahedan is close to the Pakistani and Afghan borders in Sistan-Baluchistan province, which resembles a war zone, dotted with forts, trenches and machinegun posts.
Sunni regions in Iran, Sistan-Baluchistan, say they suffer discrimination in the predominantly Shi’ite Islamic Republic.
More than 3,300 Iranian security personnel have died in the region fighting drug traffickers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.