TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – A suicide bomber killed five senior commanders of the elite Revolutionary Guard and at least 15 others in an area of southeastern Iran that has been at the center of a simmering Sunni insurgency, state media reported.
The official IRNA news agency said the dead included the deputy commander of the Guard’s ground force, Gen. Noor Ali Shooshtari, as well as a chief provincial Guard commander for the area, Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh. The other dead were Guard members or local tribal leaders. Dozens of others were wounded, the report said.
The commanders were inside a car on their way to a meeting with local tribal leaders in the Pishin district near Iran’s border with Pakistan when an attacker with explosives blew himself up, IRNA said.
Iran’s state-owned English language TV channel, Press TV, said there were two simultaneous explosions: one at the meeting and another targeting an additional convoy of Guards on their way to the gathering.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the region in Iran’s southeast has been the focus of violent attacks by a militant group from Iran’s Sunni Muslim minority called Jundallah, or Soldiers of God, which has waged a low-level insurgency in recent years.
The group accuses Iran’s Shiite-dominated government of persecution and has carried out attacks against the Revolutionary Guard and Shiite targets in the southeast.
That campaign is one of several ethnic and religious small-scale insurgencies in Iran that have fueled sporadic and sometimes deadly attacks in recent years — though none have amounted to a serious threat to the government.
The Revolutionary Guard blamed Sunday’s attack on what it called the “global arrogance,” a reference to the United States.
“The global arrogance, with the provocation of its local mercenaries, targeted the meeting of the Guard with local tribal leaders,” said a Guard statement read out on state TV.
Iranian officials have often raised concerns that Washington might try to incite members of Iran’s many ethnic and religious minorities against the Shiite-led government, which is dominated by ethnic Persians.
The Guard commanders targeted Sunday were heading to a meeting with local tribal leaders to promote unity between the Shiite and Sunni Muslim communities.
In April, Iran increased security in Sistan-Baluchistan Province, at the center of the tension, by placing it under the command of the Guard, which took over from local police forces.
The 120,000-strong Revolutionary Guard controls Iran’s missile program and has its own ground, naval and air units.
Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, condemned the assassination of the Guard commanders, saying the bombing was aimed at disrupting security in southeastern Iran.
“We express our condolences for their martyrdom. … The intention of the terrorists was definitely to disrupt security in Sistan-Baluchistan Province,” Larijani told an open session of the parliament broadcast live on state radio.
In May, Jundallah took credit for a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque that killed 25 people in Zahedan, the capital of Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province, which has witnessed some of Jundallah’s worst attacks. Thirteen members of the faction were convicted in the attack and hanged in July.
Jundallah is made up of Sunnis from the Baluchi ethnic minority, which can also be found in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The group has carried out bombings, kidnappings and other attacks against Iranian soldiers and other forces in recent years, including a car bombing in February 2007 that killed 11 members of the Revolutionary Guard near Zahedan.
Jundallah also claimed responsibility for the December 2006 kidnapping of seven Iranian soldiers in the Zahedan area. It threatened to kill them unless members of the group in Iranian prisons were released. The seven were released a month later, apparently after negotiations through tribal mediators.