Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Reuters: Iran arrests Sunni cleric in restive province

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Shi'ite Muslim Iran has arrested a Sunni cleric in the city of Zahedan, scene of two deadly attacks this year blamed on a militant Sunni group, a website said on Saturday.

Moulavi Abdolghani, provisional Friday prayer leader in Zahedan, the capital of impoverished southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, was placed under arrest on Thursday, the reformist Norooznews website said.

"Following a summons to the Special Clerical Court in the city of Mashhad, (Abdolghani) was arrested and sent to prison on Thursday," the report said. It did not say what the charges against him were.

There was no immediate word on the arrest in official media.

Militant group Jundollah (God's Soldiers), which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis, said it was behind an attack on October 18 that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iranian media said the group claimed responsibility for the May bombing of a mosque in Sistan-Baluchestan that killed 25 people.

One member of the group was hanged earlier this month, though it was not clear if he was accused of a role in the October attack, which was the deadliest such incident in Iran since the 1980s.

Many minority Sunnis live in the desert area, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.

Iran, a predominantly Shi'ite Muslim country with Sunni minorities, has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing the Sunni rebel group. London, Washington and Islamabad all denied involvement in the attack last month.

Iran rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

by Hashem Kalantari; writing by
Andrew Hammond; Editing by Charles Dick)

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