By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran
Published: June 20 2010 16:19 | Last updated: June 20 2010 16:19
The leader of Iran’s largest separatist rebel group was hanged on Sunday after being convicted of armed violence against civilians and government officials while collaborating with the US and Israeli intelligence services.
Abdolmalek Rigi was the commander of Jundollah, a militant nationalist group that emerged in 2003. The group, which promotes Sunni Islam in a predominantly Shia country, seeks autonomy for the ethnic Baluch minority who live in Sistan-Baluchestan province, in southeast Iran.
During his trial which took place behind closed doors, Mr Rigi was found guilty of killing tens of ordinary people and security personnel, kidnapping 15 others, drug smuggling and assisting US and Israeli intelligence agents against the Islamic regime. His appeal for “clemency” was turned down.
He was hanged in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison at dawn in the presence of some families of the group’s victims, Iran’s domestic media reported.
Mohammad-Akbar Chakerzehi, a local governor in Sistan-Baluchestan expressed the hope that “calm will be restored” to the province in the wake of the hanging.
Mr Rigi, believed to be in his late 20s or early 30s, had been arrested in February while he was flying from neighbouring Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.
Although his execution may disable his group in the short term, analysts have warned the Islamic regime that it could foment Iran’s ethnic tensions in the long run. His younger brother, a senior Jundollah commander, was executed last month.
Meanwhile, four Kurds were recently executed for using weapons against officials, prompting shopkeepers in some Kurdish cities and towns to go on a one-day strike in protest.
Persians constitute just over 50 per cent of Iran’s 73m population, while Azeris, Arabs, Kurds, Baluchis and Lurs form the rest, many of whom favour independence from the central government.
Iran suspects the western intelligence services of financing the ethnic opposition groups, particularly in Sistan-Baluchestan and the northwestern province of Kurdistan, to undermine the Islamic regime.