AFP: Five people were killed in an arson attack in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Monday, the second deadly incident there in the run-up to a presidential election this month.
By Hiedeh Farmani
TEHRAN (AFP) — Five people were killed in an arson attack in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Monday, the second deadly incident there in the run-up to a presidential election this month.
Five employees of the local subsidiary of financial company Mehr Financial and Credit Institution perished "after an arson attack set the building ablaze," the English-language Press TV said.
The attack came after 25 people died in the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Zahedan on Thursday, one of a string of violent incidents ahead of the June 12 election in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is facing three challengers.
Mehr Financial described itself on its website as a lending society aimed at "improving the welfare of people, especially the Basijis," the hardline militia operating under the Revolutionary Guards.
Iranian police said earlier they had rounded up suspects accused of stoking sectarian violence in Zahedan following reported attacks on a number of public buildings in the city.
"Some rogue elements and agents of the enemy who want to divide Muslim brothers sought to create insecurity in some spots in Zahedan," deputy police chief Ahmad Reza Radan told the Mehr news agency.
Radan said those arrested were "both Sunni and Shiites and they sought a Sunni-Shiite divide," insisting security had been restored on Sunday and a number of people arrested, without giving figures.
Religious leaders from both Sunni and Shiite communities appealed for calm after reports of rioting in Zahedan, which has witnessed a number of attacks in recent years blamed on a shadowy Sunni rebel group.
"After the incidents in Zahedan, the enemies tried to destabilise the situation but no one should allow the wishes of those who are against our independence and progress to materialise," Iran's spiritual guide Ali Khamenei told a gathering in Tehran.
"But our people are alert and will act sensibly," he added, quoted by Fars news agency.
The city is the capital of the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan and has a substantial Baluch minority who adhere to Sunni Islam.
The suicide bombing was reportedly claimed by Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a Sunni rebel group headed by Abdolmalek Rigi which has been blamed for much of the unrest in the province.
Iran has repeatedly blamed US and British agents in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan for launching attacks on its border provinces with significant ethnic minority populations.
"We consider Rigi's network linked with some foreign forces in Afghanistan," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters.
Iranian officials say Jundallah is known to have operated on several occasions from across the border in Pakistan, and Iran summoned the Pakistani envoy to Tehran following the mosque attack.
Mottaki said Iran and Pakistan have joined forces "in combatting insecurity" since Asif Ali Zardari became Pakistani president late last year.
"A number of rebels detained in Pakistan have been extradited to Iran within this new framework," he said, without specifying whether they belonged to Jundallah.
Iran on Saturday hanged three people for their role in the mosque attack.
A Sunni religious leader in Zahedan said the protests throughout the city began after he and his bodyguards came under attack when they visited the bombed mosque to pray for the victims on Sunday.
Molavi Abdol-Hamid Esmail-Zehi issued an appeal for calm, saying his safety was not at risk. The Shiite prayer leader in the city, Ayatollah Abbas-Ali Soleimani, issued a similar plea.
In another incident in Zahedan, gunmen on motorbikes fired at an Ahmadinejad campaign office, wounding two campaign members and a child.
And on Saturday, Iranian security forces defused a bomb found in a toilet on a plane flying from the oil-rich city of Ahvaz to Tehran.
Police also uncovered a cache of homemade weapons and munitions in a house in the northwestern city of Tabriz and arrested three people, the Kayan newspaper said.