Iran rebel group Jundallah announces new leader

Iran rebel group Jundallah – a Sunni organization that Shiite-dominated Iran says is backed by the US – announced its choice of a new leader after the other commander was captured last week.

By , Correspondent

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The Iran rebel group Jundallah has announced its choice of a new leader after the previous commander was captured last week.

Iran has touted the capture as a major victory against Jundallah, a Sunni group that it claims is backed by the US. The move to name a new leader comes after Iran broadcast a supposed confession from the captured commander in which he says the group received US support.

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The Associated Press reports that Jundallah named al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch as its new leader.

"The movement is more than its leader," said the statement posted in Arabic Saturday. "With firm determination and strong will it will continue on the path of jihad till the last drop of blood."

An earlier version of the statement appeared on the site in Farsi Friday.

The statement described the "painful event" of former leader Abdulmalik Rigi's capture on Tuesday, but said all the tribes of Baluchistan had pledged allegiance to the new leader.

'Soldiers of God'

Jundallah, which means “Soldiers of God,” is a militant Sunni group that claims to fight for the rights of the Sunni and ethnic Baluchi minority in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province. Iran accuses the US of backing the group, and says it often launches attacks from across the border in Pakistan. The group has taken responsibility for a string of attacks in recent years that have killed both Iranian troops and civilians, including an attack last year that killed five senior commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that Iran claimed previous leader Abdolmalek Rigi had been on a US military base in Afghanistan less than 24 hours before his capture, when Iran forced a plane he was traveling on to land in Iran during a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. The US has called such accusations completely false.

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 … 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.

Several news reports have described CIA and other backing for Jundallah, which often operated from Pakistan. ABC News reported in April 2007 that Jundallah “has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005,” based on US and Pakistani intelligence sources. … The US government has denied the claims of CIA or any other support.

Video confession

Iran continued its narrative of US support for the militant group with a televised confession from Rigi on Thursday. The Los Angeles Times (which posted a video of the confession) reports that Rigi appeared at times to be reading a prepared statement as he said he had been offered support from America after President Obama’s election.

The New York Times reports that’s Rigi’s confession appeared to be carefully worded to make clear that the supposed contacts between Jundallah and the US had come during the Obama administration.

The very first words of the statement are: “After Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan.” The statement is even strangely specific about the timing of the first contact from the new administration. Mr. Rigi said that American intelligence officers promised to provide “military equipment, arms and machine guns” to his fighters “around March 17" of 2009.

That date is significant because, if true, it would mean that President Obama’s administration was offering to arm militants fighting an ethnic insurgency the very same week that the president himself delivered this video greeting to the people of Iran on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year.

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