Iran arrests top Sunni militant Abdolmalek Rigi
Iran said it arrested top Sunni militant Abdolmalek Rigi, who claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks inside Iran. Tehran claims Mr. Rigi received US support.
Iran has arrested its most wanted fugitive, a Sunni rebel leader linked to a number of high-profile attacks and alleged to have Western backing, in what Tehran on Tuesday called “a great defeat for the US and UK.”Skip to next paragraph
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Abdolmalek Rigi, militant leader of the Jundallah (Soldiers of God) which had claimed a series of attacks against civilians and soldiers in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province from bases in Pakistan, was shown by Iranian state TV being led off a small plane by masked police.
Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi claimed that Rigi had been on a US military base in Afghanistan less than 24 hours before the plane he was traveling on was forced to land in Iran during a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.
“Our anonymous soldiers were able to manage his whereabouts and they followed him everywhere he went, and through this he was arrested,” Mr. Moslehi said in Tehran. He showed a photograph of Rigi – with his usual beard shaved off – which he claimed was taken at a US base.
Moslehi also alleged that Americans had provided Rigi with an Afghan passport, that the Sunni militant had visited Europe, and that he had met with a senior NATO military official in Afghanistan in April 2008.
“We have clear documents proving that Rigi was in cooperation with American, Israeli, and British intelligence services,” Moslehi said, according to Iran’s state-run English-language PressTV. Iranian media further quoted him saying: “Dubai has a smeared hand in this scandal that shows the Zionist regime wants to turn the region into a safe haven for terrorists with the help of America and Europe."
One US official dismissed the claim that Rigi had been on a US military base in Afghanistan as a “totally bogus accusation,” reported Agence France-Presse. Iran in the past has also claimed that Jundallah was linked with Al Qaeda. Iranian officials on Tuesday stated that Rigi's "right-hand man" was also arrested in the apparent covert operation.
Rigi’s capture is a coup for authorities in Tehran, who have accused the US and the West of backing rebellious minority factions such as Rigi’s Jundallah – which has called for greater rights for Sunni ethnic Baluchis in majority Shiite Iran – the Kurdish PJAK operating from Iraq in northwest Iran, and Arabs in the south.
Such groups and alleged US, British, and other intelligence and military support for them have been the subject of speculation for years, as Washington spoke openly about conducting “regime change” in Iran during the administration of President George W. Bush.