Iran Hangs 13 Members of Rebel Sunni Muslim Group

Iran hanged 13 members of a Sunni Muslim
rebel group Tuesday convicted of bombings and killings in the
country's restive southeast near the borders with Pakistan and
Afghanistan, the state news agency reported.

The mass execution was the largest ever carried out against
members of Jundallah and was likely meant as a warning to the
group, which is composed of Sunnis from the Baluchi ethnic
minority. They have waged a low-level insurgency in recent years,
accusing the mostly Shiite and Persian Iranian government of
persecution.

The group, whose name means Soldiers of God, took credit for a
suicide bombing of a Shiite mosque in May that killed 25 people in
Zahedan, the capital of Iran's southeast Sistan-Baluchistan
province that has witnessed some of Jundallah's worst attacks.

The 13 men were scheduled to be hanged in public in Zahedan, but
authorities changed their minds at the last minute and decided to
execute them inside the city's main prison, according to the
official IRNA news agency. The report said Abdulhamid Rigi, the
brother of Jundallah's leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, had been scheduled
to be hanged, but his execution was postponed. It gave no reason
for the postponement.

The executions were the latest by Iranian authorities seeking to
quell violence in Sistan-Baluchistan province, which is home to
about a million of Iran's five million Sunnis. Three men convicted
of having links to the suicide bombing in May were hanged only two
days after the attack.

But the government has struggled to enforce order in a region
where the problem of sectarian violence is combined with the
challenge of cracking down on drug smuggling routes connected to
neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Jundallah 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
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards 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.

Iran's southeast borders Pakistan's Baluchistan province, where
Pakistani authorities are battling their own insurgency by Baluchis
demanding more autonomy.

Chris Zambelis, a researcher with the Washington-based risk
management consultancy Helios Global who has studied Jundallah,
said Iranian rebels likely have some connection with those in
Pakistan, but the two groups do not necessarily work together to
plan attacks.

Iranian authorities have said Jundallah has close ties to
"foreign forces" in neighboring Afghanistan, a possible reference
to the al-Qaida terror network.

Iran has also repeatedly accused the United States of backing
militants including Jundallah and other ethnic opposition groups to
destabilize the government - charges Washington has denied. The
claims have added to the acrimony between Iran and the U.S. over
issues like Tehran's nuclear program.


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