AFP: Gunmen attacked a bus and seized five Iranian soldiers in the country’s restive southeast, media reports said on Saturday, as Sunni militants claimed responsibility for the raid.
TEHRAN (AFP) — Gunmen attacked a bus and seized five Iranian soldiers in the country’s restive southeast, media reports said on Saturday, as Sunni militants claimed responsibility for the raid.
The group ambushed the bus between the towns of Iranshahr and Chabahar in Sistan-Baluchestan province on Thursday, the official IRNA news agency cited a top government official as saying.
They took hostage six passengers including five soldiers and a bank clerk before elite Iranian forces freed two of the troops, Ali Abodllahi, who is a deputy interior minister, said in the report.
“Two soldiers were freed in an operation carried out in the region last night by the Revolutionary Guards,” Abodllahi was quoted as saying.
Mehr news agency reported that the raid was claimed by the Sunni rebel group Jundallah, or Soldiers of God.
The group also said on its website junbish.blogspot.com that it carried out the attack, adding that it killed a “number of security forces” during the assault.
Jundallah, whose longtime leader Abdolmalek Rigi was executed in June, threatened to kill the hostages unless its members currently held by Iranian authorities are released.
Abdollahi rejected Jundallah’s claim of the abduction.
Hadi Marashi, provincial security official, indicated that the hostages might eventually be handed over to Jundallah in exchange for money.
Mehr quoted him as saying security forces had also managed to identify the location where the hostages are being held.
“Based on latest reports, the location where the hostages are being held has been identified and we hope they will soon be released,” he said.
Jundallah says it fights for the interests of the southeastern province’s large ethnic Baluch community who, unlike most Shiite Iranians, mainly follow the Sunni branch of Islam.
The Baluch straddle the border with neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Jundallah militants have taken advantage of the unrest in the region to find safe haven in the border region.
In the past decade, the group has taken responsibility for many deadly attacks on Iranian security forces as well as assaults that have led to civilian deaths.
In July, it carried out twin suicide bombings at a mosque in the provincial capital Zahedan, reportedly targeting members of the Revolutionary Guards and killing 28 people.
Sistan-Baluchestan is also known for drug trafficking, smuggling and tribal unrest.