Iran: A suicide bomber killed at least 27 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and wounded 13 on a bus in a restive region of southeast Iran on Wednesday, Iranian media reported. It was among the deadliest attacks in Iran in years.
The Revolutionary Guards, an elite Iranian paramilitary force, quickly blamed the United States for the assault, which came during the week that Iran’s leaders have been celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the American-backed shah in 1979.
However, the Sunni Baloch militant group Jaish al-Adl has claimed responsibility for the attack in two separate statements.
In the statement, Jaish al-Adl rejects the charge of takfir and terrorism by the Iranian government and says that Jaish al-Adl is a “collection of courageous sons of Iran who have had enough of the oppression of the regime” and wants to “liberate oppressed people of Baluchestan and other compatriots.” It goes on to say that “the targeting of the cadre of Guard Corps forces by Jaish Al-Adl Organization shows that the brave men of Baluchistan seek to seriously distinguish targets between law enforcement, traffic forces, and conscripts, and the rest of sectarian Guard Corps cadre.”
The bombing Wednesday night struck the bus traveling on a road between the cities of Khash and Zahedan, a mountainous region along the Pakistani border that is also near Afghanistan. Images after the blast published by semi-official news agencies showed the explosion tore the bus apart, as passers-by used the light of their cellphones to illuminate the debris.
The Guard, which answers only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a statement saying a vehicle loaded with explosives targeted a bus carrying border guards affiliated with its force.
Sistan and Baluchistan province, which lies on a major opium trafficking route, has seen occasional clashes between Iranian forces and Baluch separatists, as well as drug traffickers.
However, in recent months, there’s been an uptick in assaults by the Sunni extremist group Jaish al-Adl, or the “Army of Justice.” Since its founding in 2012, it has abducted or killed border guards in hit-and-run assaults from its havens in Pakistan. It kidnapped 11 Iranian border guards in October. Five later were returned to Iran and six remained held.
In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Sistan and Baluchistan province. Jundallah, a Sunni extremist group whose members have joined Jaish al-Adl, claimed responsibility for that attack.