Thursday, 10 June 2010

Leader of Sunni rebel group goes on trial in Iran

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The leader of a Sunni Muslim rebel group, behind some of the deadliest bomb attacks in the Islamic Republic in years, went on trial in Tehran on Thursday, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Iran seized Abdolmalek Rigi in February, four months after his Jundollah (God's soldiers) group claimed a bombing which killed dozens of people, including senior officers of the elite Revolutionary Guards.

"At the trial...the prosecutor's representative accused Rigi of moharebeh (waging war against God) and being corrupt on the earth," IRNA reported. Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, if convicted, both charges are punishable by death.

"The prosecutor's representative asked for maximum punishment for Rigi and pointed to his involvement in 79 criminal acts, especially the killing of tens of innocent people," IRNA reported, adding that the families of some of the victims were present in court.

It said Rigi "confirmed his crimes" and asked for forgiveness.

Abdolhamid Rigi, a brother of Abdolmalek and a Jundollah member, was executed in the southeastern city of Zahedan on Monday after he was charged with bombing operations, armed robbery and drug trafficking.

Iranian officials say Jundollah has links to Sunni Islamist al Qaeda and support from Pakistan, Britain and the United States. The three countries deny backing it.

Many minority Sunnis live in Sistan-Baluchestan, an impoverished area in southeast Iran, near Pakistan and Afghanistan, where there has been an increase in recent years in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.

Iranian officials say security and economic activity have improved in the region since the Jundollah leader's arrest.

Iran hanged 13 Jundollah members in July last year and one in November in connection with various killings and attacks.

Iran, a major oil producer locked in dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear programme, rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

(Editing by Diana Abdallah)

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