Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bomb kills at least 30 in port city

I originally wrote this article for Tehran Bureau.

Two suicide bombers killed at least 30 people and injured 55 in a mourning procession in Chabahar on Wednesday morning, according to news reports in Iran.

The Jundullah armed group, which was designated by the U.S. as a foreign terrorist organization in November, took responsibility for the attack in a statement posted to the Internet today.The group published photos of two young men wearing explosives vests and purported to be the suicide bombers, who were identified as Seifolrahman Chabahari and Hessan Khashi. (This blog will not post the photos glorifying the suicide bombers) The statement said that the attack had been carried out to avenge the Islamic Republic's execution of Jundullah's leader, Abdol Malek Rigi, in June of this year.

Information from official sources was confusing, at times contradictory, in the immediate aftermath of the bloody attacks which took place between Farmandari Square and Imam Hossein mosque in this balmy port with a free-trade zone on the Gulf of Oman.

Chabahar is situated in the southern fringes of Sistan-va-Baluchistan province which has a large Sunni Muslim population and has been the scene of terrorist attacks by the Jundullah armed group which proclaims that the country's majority Shiites persecute Sunnis. The Interior Ministry was prompt in blaming foreign governments, particularly the U.S. 'The equipment and logistical support of the terrorists indicate that these elements were backed by advanced intelligence services of the region and the United States,' said a statement.

The head of the country's Red Crescent and emergency services, Mahmoud Mozaffar, declared that 36 people had perished, before revising the figure to 31. Some injured victims who were subsequently revived had been counted among the dead, according to Mozaffar. Mohammad Yaghoub Jadgal, the parliamentary representative from Chabahar, told the state news agency IRNA that 50 to 60 injured had been transferred to hospitals.

The following video shows security forces and emergency workers in the area, shortly after the attack:

Witnesses spoke of two explosions in front of Imam Hossein Mosque on Imam Boulevard that cuts the city in two, along an east-west axis. The city's predominantly Sunni population worships at the much larger Jameh Mosque, a few blocks to the east. The attacks came on one of the holiest days, Tasoua, of one of the holiest months, Moharram, of the Shiite calendar. The first ten days of Moharram are devoted to mourning the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, one of the most revered figures in the Shiite faith, culminating in the commemoration of Ashura tomorrow.

View Chabahar, Iran - Imam Hossein Mosque - 15 Decemeber 2010 in a larger map

Today's attack took place in the official mourning procession of fishery workers and their families, according to Mehr News.

Deputy Interior Minister in charge of security Ali Abdollahi told reporters that two bombs went off in close proximity between 10:00 and 10:30 AM, but subsequent news releases said that one of the two blasts was an acoustic bomb. It now appears that the latter conflagration was from the detonator of a second explosive device that did not go off.

Local intelligence and security sources informed Mehr News that three assailants had been involved and that the 'main instigator' had been arrested, while another had been killed when his explosives vest blew up. Mehr News reported that the third individual had been shot by the police. Chabahar Governor Ali Bateni denied that three men were responsible for the attacks, but he confirmed that the 'main element in the terrorist attack' has been arrested.

The official line slowly emerging from the chatter seems to be that two suicide bombers carried out the attack, that only one succeeded in exploding his device, and that both men are now dead. 'One explosion had a lower toll because the assailant was identified before the blast,' said Deputy Interior Minister Abdollahi in a later statement; 'The individual was identified by the police and shot. But he managed to detonate the device which did not cause much damage.'

Sistan-va-Baluchistan Governor Ali Mohammad Azad told the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network that the 'two terrorists waited along the procession's route because they had not been able to approach the official stand. They were suicide bombers. As soon as the security forces became suspicious of them, the first individual exploded his device, martyring and injuring some of our loved ones. The second individual who intended to blow himself up at the same time was identified by the security forces and shot and killed. Some 30 loved ones were killed and 55 injured thus far.' (see video below)

So no terrorist was arrested? 'Both were killed,' said Governor Azad. 'The second individual's belt did not function because he had been shot. Only its detonator exploded. This second one did not cause any casualties.'

Opposition groups have announced that they will participate in tomorrow's Ashura ceremonies. Last year's ceremonies turned into a bloody protest against the regime, during which security forces killed demonstrators, at least in two documented instances by running over them with police vehicles.

It is unclear whether today's blasts will result in tougher security measures tomorrow.


The following is further footage from state television. I apologize for not having the time to translate: