Iran accused the US and the UK Friday of supporting the terrorist group behind Thursday's suicide bombing in Iran that killed 27 people, including members of the elite Revolutionary Guard.
Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Revolutionary Guard, told worshippers at the main weekly prayers in Teheran that the victims "were martyred by hands of mercenaries of the US and UK."
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He was echoed by influential lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi who said "America should be answerable for the terrorist incident in Zahedan."
Both the US and the UK denied supporting the terrorist group, Jundallah.
US President Obama condemned the attacks, saying in a statement that the deaths of innocent civilians in their place of worship is an "intolerable offense" and that those responsible for the blasts must be held accountable.
The double suicide bombing, perpetrated by Sunni insurgent group Jundallah, targeted a Shi'ite mosque in southeast Iran in retaliation for the execution of Jundallah's leader. Iran said the death toll from the attack rose to 27.
Jundallah, has repeatedly succeeded in carrying out deadly strikes on the Guard, the country's most powerful military force — including an October suicide bombing that killed more than 40 people. The new attack was a sign that the group is still able to carry out devastating bombings even after Iran hanged its leader Abdulmalik Rigi and his brother earlier this year.
Shiite worshippers were attending ceremonies marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein, when the first blast went off at the entrance of the mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan. The male bomber was disguised as a woman, local lawmaker Hossein Ali Shahriari told the ISNA news agency.
Inside the mosque, a cleric was reading from the Quran in front of lines of faithful sitting cross-legged on the floor when the building suddenly shook from the blast and screams were heard from outside, according to footage taken at the time and aired on Iranian state TV.
As people rushed to help, the second explosion detonated 20 minutes later, causing the majority of the deaths and injuries, ISNA reported. The technique is often used by Sunni militants in Iraq to maximize casualties.
Members of the Guard were among the worshippers, particularly because the ceremonies coincided with Iran's official Revolutionary Guard Day. The deputy interior minister, Ali Abdollahi, told the Fars news agency Thursday that several Guard members were among the dead.
Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastagerdi told ISNA on Friday that the toll stood at 27 dead but could still rise, with another 270 injured, including 11 in serious condition.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the suicide bombings saying "this senseless act of terrorism at a place of worship makes it all the more reprehensible," UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters at UN headquarters.
Jundallah has been waging an insurgency for years in the remote Sistan-Baluchistan province, a lawless area where smuggling and banditry are rife. The groups says it is fighting for the rights of the mainly Sunni ethnic Baluchi minority, which it says suffers discrimination at the hands of Iran's Shiite's leadership. Iran has accused the group of links to al-Qaida, but experts say no evidence of such a link has been found.
Iran executed Jundallah's leader in June in Zahedan, a month after hanging his brother Abdulhamid Rigi, who had been captured in Pakistan in 2008 and extradited to Iran. The group named a new leader, al-Hajj Mohammed Dhahir Baluch.
In a statement posted on its Web site, Jundallah claimed responsibility for Thursday night's blast, saying they were to avenge Abdulmalik Rigi's death. It showed pictures of two suicide bombers wearing explosive vests, identified as Mohammad and Mujahid Rigi, apparently members of the leader's clan, though the site did not specify their relationship to him.
The group said its "sons of the faith ... carried out tonight a heroic
unprecedented operation at the heart of an assembly of the Guard at
Zahedan," claiming to have killed more than 100.
Jundallah has repeatedly targeted the Revolutionary Guards. In its
deadliest attack, a suicide bomber hit a meeting between Guard
commanders and Shiite and Sunni tribal leaders in the border town of
Pishin on Oct. 18, killing 42 people, including 15 Guard members.
The group struck another mosque in Zahedan in May 2009, killing 25
people. In February 2007, a Jundallah car bomb blew up a bus carrying
Revolutionary Guards in Zahedan, killing 11.