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IRAN: British Condemn Ahwaz Attacks

The British government has been quick to condemn bomb attacks on a shopping centre in Ahwaz City, the provincial capital of the Arab dominated province of Khuzestan (Al-Ahwaz).

In a statement published soon after the attacks, the British embassy in Tehran expressed its "revulsion at and condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Ahvaz." It added: "On behalf of the British Government and people, we extend our condolences to the families of the bereaved, the injured and all those involved. The British Government condemns all terrorist activity unequivocally."

The statement added: "There has been speculation in the past about alleged British involvement in Khuzestan. We reject these allegations. Any linkage between the British Government and these terrorist outrages is without foundation. As we have made clear officially to the Government of Iran, the British Government and British forces in Iraq stand ready to help in anyway we can to prevent attacks of this kind or identify those responsible and bring them to justice."

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Iranian regime has claimed that the British government is behind Arab unrest, including rioting in April and bomb attacks in June. Despite claiming to have arrested the perpetrators it has not provided any evidence to substantiate its claims and has not put any of the alleged terrorists on trial.

Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Hossein Mousapour told state-run Mehr news agency: "Most probably those involved in the explosion were British agents who were involved in the previous incidents in Ahvaz and Khuzestan." His claim appeared to contradict the regime's previous claim that it had arrested all the "British agents" responsible for the June bomb attacks. He was also contradicted by Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidreza Asefi who said that the government had not yet received information proving foreign involvement in the attacks.

Some claim the bombs could have been personal or crime-related, rather than politically motivated. It is unlikely that the attacks were carried out by Ahwazi opposition groups as an attack in Ahwaz City could only damage their support among the province's indigenous Arabs. Ahwazi militants have tended to carry out sabotage operations on Iranian oil facilities, rather than attacks on civilians.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), a lobbying group that works with Ahwazi Arab political parties and human rights groups, has suggested the attacks may have been the work of the security forces in an attempt to discredit the Ahwazi opposition and as an excuse to retaliate against Western forces in Iraq.

In the run-up to the June election, reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin told The Guardian newspaper that violent attacks by unidentified thugs and a series of bomb attacks, including attacks in Ahwaz City, may have been calculated to persuade voters to choose a candidate with a military background. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative and former senior army officer, won the presidential election with support from the Basij militias.

Ahwazi Arabs are fearing the attacks will lead to an increase in violent persecution and ethnic cleansing, which have led to unrest in Al-Ahwaz in recent months. In April, at least 160 people were killed by security forces, hundreds injured and hundreds more arrested during a government crack-down on anti-government demonstrations in the province.