Thirty persons were killed and over 180 injured on May 28, 2009, in a suspected suicide bomb blast at the Amir-al Momenin Shia mosque in Zahidan, the capital of Iranian Balochistan. It is the second largest Shia mosque in Zahidan. Mainly Shia government servants and members of the security forces pray there. Three persons were injured on May 29, 2009, when unidentified gunmen attacked the election office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Zahidan. On May 31, 2009, there was an exchange of fire between groups of Shias and Sunnis in different parts of Zahidan following an unsuccessful attempt by unidentified persons to kill Mulla Abdol Hamid, a senior Sunni leader. While he survived the attack, many of his body guards were reportedly injured.
Following these incidents, the Iranian authorities announced the execution of three Balochs on a charge of involvement in the explosion of May 28. Baloch sources, however, maintained that these persons were already in police custody and had been arrested before the explosion. Hence, they contended, these persons could not have participated in the explosion as alleged by the Iranian authorities.
The province of Sistan-Balochistan has around 3.5 million Balochs, the majority of them Sunnis. The province has been the scene of frequent incidents of violence unconnected with the liberation struggle being waged by the Balochs in Pakistan's Balochistan province for over three years now. There are close ethnic and religious links between the two Baloch communities on both sides of the Pakistan-Iran border. Iranian Balochistan also has a common border with Afghanistan.
The responsibility for the violent incidents in Iranian Balochistan in the past as well as for the latest one on October 18, 2009, has been claimed by an organisation called Jondollah (Soldiers of Allah), which projects itself as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran and not as the People's Resistance Movement of Sistan-Balochistan. It has no links with any of the Baloch nationalist organisations in the Balochistan province of Pakistan. In the past, there were reports of its having links with the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi of Pakistan. In the 1990s, there were reports that a major explosion in the province was organised by Ramzi Yousef, who is now undergoing imprisonment in the US for his involvement in the attempt to blow up the World Trade Centre in New York in February, 1993. The Jondollah seems to be more a Sunni extremist than a Baloch nationalist organisation.
The Jondollah had claimed that 130 members of the Iranian security forces were actually killed in the Zahidan attack of May 28, 2009. A statement attributed to Jondollah after the May 28 attack said:
"This incident has been organised in response to one week of Omar Denunciation Ceremonies which the fanatic Shias and security forces organised to curse Omar, the second Caliph, whom they blame for killing Fatema, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad. The false and fabricated narrative has been officially recognized in Iran as a fact and therefore, Iranian authorities have initiated a large number of denunciation ceremonies in which the second Caiph is cursed by the speakers and audience; even though Ayatollah Khamenaei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, announced three weeks ago that any action that may generate divisions among Moslems is treason. The Shia leaders and followers are famous for what they call Taghiya, which means lying for the sake of Islam but now it has been turned in Iran as an official way of misleading and deceiving the public and opponents, saying something in the public and doing something else. If the supreme leader really believed in what he said, organising such incidents should have been prohibited by law and if anybody acted against the law, should have been arrested and tried for generating severe divisions among Moslems. The authorities have blamed the US for hiring terrorists who carried out the suicide bombing. Jondollah categorically rejects this claim. It does not have any kind of relationship or any kind of support from the US or any other country. This action was in response to systematic and regular insults to the beliefs of Sunni Muslims in Iran and wide discrimination against the Baloch people. We reject the government’s claim that we are a terrorist organization. We are a defensive organization and act according to international law of self-defence by the same strategy and equipments the Iranian governments are using against us. Several religious leaders and hundreds of Baloch youth have been killed or hanged by the Islamic Republic of Iran just for their beliefs after severe and long torture. The Islamic Republic of Iran has destroyed several Sunni mosques and has hanged several top religious leaders of Sunni people in Iran."
A statement of July 23, 2009, attributed to the Jondollah said:
"The Islamic regime hanged 13 young Baluch political activists on 14 July to create a sense of fear among the public. The Baluch people have been in the vanguard of the political campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran that conducted the biggest fraud in election in the history of Iran and the world. The resistance of Baluch people became a great source of inspiration for other people of Iran to express their discontent about the fraudulent elections and other injustices in the form of demonstrations and huge marches......At the same time, the government of Pakistan extradited one Baluch who was in prison for some time to the Iranian regime, knowing that he will be tortured and executed. The Pakistan government under Musharaf extradited a group of Baluch opposition to the government of Iran and all of them were tortured and executed later. The Baluch people are Sunnis and they have been subjected to discriminatory policies. Baluchistan has the highest poverty rate and according to all international and United Nations research, is the poorest province of Iran. According to official figures, poverty rate in Baluchistan is over 76 per cent. The Baluch students are not admitted into universities on an equal basis and on merit. While the Islamic Republic of Iran has given more than a million scholarships to Iranian students to study abroad or in the top Iranian universities, only three Baluch students have been awarded scholarships. The Baluch people are under daily threat and a security environment has been imposed in Baluchistan. Everybody is a suspect and the security guards shoot the Baluch people with total impunity. Although hundreds of Baluch people have been killed in the streets of Iran, not even one single agent has been tried in the court. Baluchistan is in the vanguard of the freedom seeking people of Iran and will never stop its campaigning until a democratic regime is established in Iran."
In an earlier statement of July 14,2009, the Jondollah said:
"The young Baluchs (executed on July 14) have been forced to accept that they have been agents of CIA. They were campaigning for the legitimate rights of the Baluch people who are Sunnis in a majority Shia country. The Baluch people have been systematically oppressed since the beginning of the revolution for seeking equality of rights and opportunities with other Iranians. According to the constitution of the Islamic Republic and other laws that have been passed by Iranian parliament, the Sunnis are prohibited from becoming supreme leader, president, minister, deputy minister, army general, ambassador, or any other high official. The official religion of the state has been declared Shiism which is a radical opponent of the Sunni people."
The Iranian authorities have been projecting the Jondollah as a surrogate of the US intelligence operating from sanctuaries in Pakistani territory. They have been alleging that the periodic terrorist strikes in Iranian Balochistan are being mounted from Pakistani territory. While they accuse the Pakistani authorities of inaction against the anti-Iranian Sunni elements operating from Pakistani territory, they have never accused the Baloch nationalist organisations of Pakistani Balochistan of backing the Jondollah. They have been suspecting the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ), the anti-Shia organisation of Pakistan which is allied with Al Qaeda, to be training the suicide bombers of the Jondollah. However, they have never accused Al Qaeda of involvement in Iranian Balochistan.
According to the Iranian authorities, the leader of the Jondollah is Abdul Malik Rigi, who lives in Pakistan. His elder brother Abdul Hamid Rigi, who was also based in Pakistan, was arrested by the Musharraf regime and handed over to the Iranian authorities. Reports received in July had indicated that he was among those to be executed on July 14. He made a self-confession before local TV channels. But, latest reports say that the Iranian authorities decided not to execute him to avoid creating any embarrassment for Islamabad. Some of the statements attributed to the Jondollah are disseminated from London. This has created some suspicion in the minds of the Iranian authorities that the UK is also probably backing the Jondollah in its anti-Teheran activities.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
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