At least 38 people were killed in two bombings outside a mosque in Iran’s southeastern city of Chabahar during the annual Shiite Muslim ceremonies of Ashura.
An additional 100 people were wounded in the blasts today in Sistan-Baluchistan province, which targeted a procession at the Imam Hossein Mosque, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said. The Sunni Muslim Jundallah group claimed responsibility on its website, al-Arabiya television reported.
A suspect who was the “main agent” of the bombings is in custody, regional Governor Ali Bateni was cited by IRNA as saying. “Equipment and facilities” seized in connection with the blasts link the suspect to “advanced intelligence services of the region and the U.S.,” IRNA reported, citing Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Ali Adbollahi.
Attacks have been increasing in the southeast, “where loyalty to the regime in Tehran is very low, and claims of discrimination, underdevelopment, severe restrictions and high levels of military presence are compounding Iran’s underlying ethno-national divide,” Gala Riani, Middle East analyst for London-based business intelligence and forecasting company IHS Global Insight, said in an interview. “The tensions and violence are the most visible backlashes against the regime.”
The blasts today went off at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. local time, IRNA said, citing Adbollahi. Police had identified the two attackers, who detonated explosives before they could be arrested, it said. Twenty-two of the dead have been identified, and include three women and a baby, according to IRNA.
‘Brutal and Intentional’
Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani condemned the “brutal and intentional” bloodshed in a report carried by IRNA, saying it was aimed at dividing the country’s majority Shiites and minority Sunni Muslims.
U.S. President Barack Obama called it an “outrageous terrorist attack” and a “disgraceful and cowardly act.
‘‘The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offense, and those who carried it out must be held accountable,’’ Obama said in a statement issued by the White House.
The world must condemn ‘‘and oppose all forms of terrorism’’ and support people’s right to ‘‘live free from fear and senseless violence,’’ Obama said.
The worst attack carried out by Jundallah was a bombing in October last year that left 43 people dead. That blast, and others claimed by the group, targeted the provincial capital of Zahedan. The one today took place south of the city, suggesting a broadening of its operations, Riani said.
Still, ‘‘Jundallah’s attacks are typically carried out several months apart, suggesting it either does not have the capacity for a bigger war on the Iranian security forces, or is not prepared to wage a bigger one,’’ she said.
Jundallah, Arabic for ‘‘soldiers of God,’’ is based Sistan- Baluchistan, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan and is one of Iran’s poorest areas. The only widely known militant group in the region, it says it seeks greater political rights for ethnic Baluchis in the Persian-dominated country.
Iran has blamed the U.S., Israel, and the U.K. for previous mosque attacks, accusing them of supporting Jundallah to promote an insurgency by ethnic minorities and destabilize the Shiite- led government. All three countries have denied the allegations and the Obama administration added the group to its list of terrorist organizations in November.
The 10 days of Ashura rituals, which climax tomorrow, are observed by Shiites in countries including neighboring Iraq. About 2 million people are expected to mark Ashura in Iraq’s southern city of Karbala, where the imam, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, was killed in battle in the seventh century.