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US blamed for Iranian mosque bombing

AN Iranian official accused the United States yesterday of involvement in a mosque bombing that killed 25 people in volatile southeastern Iran, two weeks before the Islamic Republic's presidential election.

Jalal Sayyah, of the governor's office in Sistan-Baluchestan province, said three people had been arrested in relation with Thursday's blast in a crowded Shi'ite mosque in the city of Zahedan, in a region where many of Iran's minority Sunnis live.

The explosion, which some officials and media suggested was a suicide bombing, took place on a religious holiday in the mainly Shi'ite Muslim country. About 145 people were wounded.

Iran has previously accused the US of backing Sunni rebels operating on its border with Pakistan who Tehran says are linked to the Islamist al-Qaida network.

"The terrorists, who were equipped by America in one of our neighboring countries, carried out this criminal act in their efforts to create religious conflict and fear and to influence the presidential election," Sayyah told state radio.

He said two children were among the dead. The official Islamic Republic news agency put the death toll at 25, naming all but one of the victims, who were men. Other media cited somewhat lower figures.

The person who detonated the device was standing among men praying in Ali Ebne-Abitaleb mosque and was also killed, provincial judiciary official Ebrahim Hamidi said.

It was one of the deadliest bombing incidents in Iran since its 1980-88 war with Iraq. A blast in a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz killed 14 people in April last year but the country has been relatively peaceful in a turbulent region.

"It has been confirmed that those behind the terrorist act in Zahedan were hired by America and the arrogance's other hands," Sayyah told the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Iranian leaders, who often accuse the US and its allies of seeking to destabilize it, refer to Washington as the "Great Satan" guilty of "global arrogance".

Sistan-Baluchestan province, home to Iran's mostly Sunni ethnic Baluchis, is the scene of frequent clashes between security forces and heavily armed drug smugglers and bandits.


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