Iran executes 13 Sunni rebels

The condemned were members of Jundallah, which claims to fight for the rights of Sunnis in majority-Shiite Iran. The government has accused the group of ties to Pakistan and the US.

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Iran has executed 13 members of a Sunni rebel group accused of carrying out terrorist attacks in Iran, including mosque bombings and kidnapping foreigners.

The executions took place Tuesday in the southeastern city of Zahedan in the restive Sistan-Baluchistan Province, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan (click here for a map of the region). Jundallah, which reportedly has up to 1,000 armed fighters, claims to fight against the Shiite regime's marginalization of Iran's 2 million ethnic Baluchis, who are primarily Sunni Muslims.

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The group is accused of attacking high-profile targets, including government and security officials. Most recently, Jundallah claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Shia mosque in Zahedan which killed 25 people, reports Agence France-Presse.

The executions are expected to deal a blow to the rebel group. But they may also heighten tensions between Iran and Pakistan because Tehran has long accused Islamabad of allowing Jundallah to operate from its territory. The Iranian government has also accused the US of supporting Jundallah.

The BBC reports that the execution of the most prominent Jundallah member in custody has been postponed. Abdolhamid Rigi, the brother of Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi and the group's second in command, will be executed later this week, according to government press reports.

The fighters were executed for opening fire on a convoy of vehicles and killing 23 people in Tasuki in March 2006, along with other crimes, reports the Tehran Times, an Iranian daily.

[Ebrahim Hamidi, the chairman of Baluchestan's Justice Department] said the rulings were issued in proportionate with the kinds of the crimes they had committed, including the Tasuki incident, creating roadblocks in Chabahar road, kidnapping foreign nationals, and armed robberies.

According to WashingtonTV, a news site covering Iran, the human rights group Amnesty International called on Iran to stay the executions, arguing that the Jundallah fighters had not received a fair trial.

The execution of Jundallah fighters will heighten tensions between Iran and its neighbor Pakistan. Earlier this month, Iran's prosecutor general asked Islamabad to "take necessary measures to prevent terrorists from taking shelter in [Pakistan]," reports Press TV, a state-run news network.

After the mosque attack in Zahedan in May this year, The News, an English-language Pakistani daily, reported that Jundallah's activities threaten "not only the Pak-Iran diplomatic ties but also the future of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project."

The sources said Iranian officials had expressed their deep concern over the failure of the Pakistani authorities to proceed against the Jundullah network in Pakistan despite having been given specific intelligence....
Diplomatic circles in Islamabad say Tehran's concern over the growing terrorist activities of Jundullah ... could be gauged from the fact that its Ambassador to Pakistan Mashallah Shakeri had addressed an unusual press conference in Islamabad on March 20, accusing Pakistan of allowing its soil to be used against Iran and demanding concrete steps to contain its activities.
While claiming that the Jundullah network was located inside the Balochistan province, Shakeri had asked Islamabad to curb its anti-Iran activities by taking a decisive action against its leadership.

Iran's decision to crack down on Jundallah will also impact US-Iran relations, reports The National, an English-language daily in Abu Dhabi.

Tehran has also accused the US and Britain of supporting Jundallah to foment sectarian strife in the hope of destabilising the Tehran government. Iranian suspicions of American perfidy were fuelled by reports in some mainstream US media outlets last year that Jundallah was being secretly encouraged and advised by American officials to destabilise the Iranian regime.
Washington and London have denied all such accusations, as well as Iranian claims that they have stirred the crisis that has gripped Iran since the June elections.... [Jundallah leader] Rigi also took the opportunity to deny that his group is connected in any way to the US....
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