Iranian officials have accused Western countries of supporting the leader of the Jundallah Sunni Muslim rebel group, whose arrest was announced earlier today. Iran described the capture of its most wanted fugitive as a "great defeat" for the United States and Britain.
An undated photo of suspected Jundallah leader Abdolmalik Rigi
Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi made the
comment after Iranian state media announced that security forces had arrested
Abdulmalik Rigi, whose group has been waging a low-level insurgency in
At a press conference, Moslehi said the country has "solid evidence" that the United States and some European Union countries supported the rebel leader in his "terrorist" activities.
"We are warning the United States and Britain's intelligence services to stop interfering in Iran's internal affairs and supporting terrorism," Moslehi said. "They have been supporting this group and they should take their hands off groups like this who are involved in spilling innocent blood, because they earn a bad name for the European and American nations."
In a brief statement, the British Foreign Office said Rigi's arrest "would be a blow against terrorism, which Britain unreservedly welcomes."
The minister displayed a photograph that he said showed Rigi at a U.S. base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his capture. He also showed what he said was the identity card prepared for Rigi in Pakistan by Americans, and an Afghan passport that he said Americans also prepared for him.
Moslehi also said the militant had traveled to European Union countries ahead of his arrest and met an unidentified NATO military chief in Afghanistan in April 2008. He said Rigi had contacts with both the U.S. CIA and Israel's Mossad spy agencies.
Moslehi said Rigi was captured following a counterintelligence operation, but details on the arrest remain sketchy.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar was quoted as saying Rigi was arrested "outside Iran and transferred over" to the country.
But an Iranian lawmaker, Mohammad Dehghan, told the official IRNA news agency that Rigi was on a flight heading to an Arab country via Pakistan when his plane was ordered to land.
Press TV cited yet other reports as saying Rigi was arrested aboard a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.
Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which Iran suspects of having links with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, has been waging a six-year insurgency with sporadic attacks that have left dozens of dead in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan.
The group took responsibility for an October 2009 attack that killed more than 40 Iranians, including top commanders of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, tribal chiefs, and other civilians.
Following the attack, Iran accused the United States, Britain, and Pakistan of having links with the Sunni militants.
That month, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad demanded that Islamabad help Iran track down and hand over members of the group, which Iranian officials allege are hiding in Pakistan.
"We ask the Pakistani government not to delay any longer in the apprehension of the main elements in this terrorist attack, and also we were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident," Ahmadinejad said, adding, "We regard it as our right to demand these criminals."
Islamabad joined Washington and London in denying those charges. Pakistan had previously said that its intelligence agencies have evidence Rigi was in Afghanistan.
Islamabad also said it had been cooperating with Iran and handed over a dozen suspected militants in recent months, including Rigi's brother, Abdulhamid Rigi. He had been scheduled to be hanged along with 13 other members of the group in July, but his execution was postponed without explanation.
Jundallah has claimed it does not seek to break away from Iran but that it's fighting on behalf of the largely Sunni Baluch population against discrimination and neglect by Iran's Shi'ite leadership.
Pakistan, like Iran, faces periodic insurgencies in its Baluch-populated southwest. On both sides of the border, remote, desert Baluch-populated areas are among the poorest in the region and have been the scene of sporadic clashed between security forces and drug traffickers.
based on agency and RFE/RL reports
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