Sunni Militants Behind Mosque Bombings In Iran
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In southeastern Iran yesterday, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a mosque. They killed more than two dozen people, including several members of the Revolutionary Guard. A militant group called Jundullah is claiming responsibility. Jundullah's statement says these explosions were meant to avenge the arrest and hanging of the group's leader in June.
The group is made up mostly of Sunni Muslims, while the majority of Iranians are Shiites. Iran's clerical leaders expressed outrage over the explosions and the U.S. has condemned them, as well. But Iran claims the U.S. might be backing the militants.
Thomas Erdbrink is in Tehran as a correspondent for The Washington Post. We asked him to explain Iranian argument.
Mr. THOMAS ERDBRINK (Correspondent, The Washington Post): Both the government and religious clerics in this country see themselves faced with U.S. forces in both neighboring Iraq and neighboring Afghanistan. And they also witnessed an upsurge in bombings in Iran's border areas with the beginning of the Iraq War, in 2003.
So they are very sure that America, working together with groups of al-Qaida, is attempting to use this group, Jundullah, and create disturbances in this area.
NORRIS: Has the U.S. responded in any way to the claim that they might be working with an affiliate of al-Qaida?
Mr. ERDBRINK: Well, some months ago, when there was another large bomb attack in the same region, Iran again made this accusation and the U.S. responded by saying that this was absolutely ridiculous, that United States has nothing to seek in that part of Iran, albeit all Iran itself. And they flat-out denied these kind of accusations.
NORRIS: Can you tell us a little bit more about this militant group, Jundullah? What are they fighting for?
Mr. ERDBRINK: Well, Jundullah is basically fighting for independence of their region, the region of Baluchestan. Baluchestan is a region that covers both parts of Iran and Pakistan. And these people are mainly Sunni Muslims. The region is very poor, very backward. What Jundullah says is that the rights of the Sunni minority are not respected by the Shiite government in Tehran.
And they basically have a struggle that is increasing in intensity, starting out with smaller bombings and kidnappings of security personnel, but now leading to larger bombings and even videotaped executions, as we have seen in Iraq, for instance, some years ago. So they are now starting to copy al-Qaida tactics is what Iranians say.
NORRIS: So they're copying al-Qaida tactics. Is there any suggestion or any proof that they have direct links to al-Qaida or any other terrorist organizations in Pakistan or elsewhere?
Mr. ERDBRINK: Such facts are, of course, very hard to establish in this region. But, of course, if you look at the geographical position of Baluchestan, and Zahedan where the bombing took place, Zahedan is only a couple of miles from the Pakistani border and also very close to the Afghanistan border. So these people - who are all tribesmen - have contacts with maybe pockets of Taliban or people affiliated with al-Qaida is, of course, very possible.
NORRIS: We live in an age where reports of suicide bombings are all too common. But Im wondering what the reaction to this is like in Iran, where this kind of thing has been much less common.
Mr. ERDBRINK: Well, I think it's very easy to say that the general population of Iran is highly shocked by such an attack. Iran is an island of stability compared to other nations in the region. People here every night see on the news whats happening in Afghanistan. They see what has happened in Iraq. And they're very happy that this is not happening in their country.
Now, Im certain many people have sympathies for minorities who want to secure their rights. But Im sure that normal Iranians do not agree with the use of violence against the government in such a way.
NORRIS: Thomas Erdbrink is a correspondent for The Washington Post.
Mr. Erdbrink, thank you very much for your time.
Mr. ERDBRINK: Thank you.
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