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Iran minister blames MKO for Ahwaz attacks

Iran's Acting Deputy Interior Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr on Monday blamed the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO) for bomb attacks in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) just hours after Iran said it was submitting evidence of Sunni extremist involvement.

His accusations against the MKO, an armed populist group once sheltered by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, appear to contradict the claims by Deputy Governor General of Khuzestan Mohsen Farrokhi Nezhad that Arab Wahhabi fundamentalists were responsible for a string of bombings in Ahwaz. Zolqadr referred to "Farsi speaking mercenaries", whereas previous government statements had blamed Arab separatists.

On Monday morning, Iranian news agencies reported that Iran was submitting documents it says prooves "interference by foreigners in the terrorist incidents in Khuzestan province last year" to the United Nations. Khuzestan's Deputy Governor had blamed the 'occupiers of Iraq' and also claimed that the group they were sponsoring was affiliated to Al-Qaeda and held Wahhabi and anti-Shi'ite views. However, the government has not revealed the name of the group.

The government has claimed it has arrested all those involved in the bombings. However, among the detainees are the wives and young children of members of moderate Arab groups, such as the Wefagh Party which campaigns for Arabs rights but opposes armed opposition and separatism. Some of those accused have been in prison for the past five years and therefore could not have been responsible for the recent spate of bomb attacks.

Nasser Bani Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "The Iranian regime has so many enemies, it does not know who to blame for its domestic problems. It is highly unlikely that the MKO, Al-Qaeda, Ba'athists, Arab separatists and Western governments could all be colluding in a bombing campaign in Ahwaz. But the Iranian regime is propagating this absurd conspiracy theory and expecting the world to believe it.

"It will be interesting to see what 'evidence' the regime has presented to the UN. The evidence published so far is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions that lead us to believe that Iran has very little evidence to back up its claims.

"The only people who have benefitted from the bomb attacks are those seeking a hardening of the government's stance against its opponents. The attacks have given the authorities a licence to arrest, imprison, torture and execute innocent Ahwazi Arab civilians. As a result of the attacks, hardliners have successfully developed a security policy based on paranoia and prejudice against religious and ethnic minorities as well as trade unionists and human rights activists.

"If the hardliners are the only ones to benefit from the bombing campaign and if they are the ones weaving conspiracy theories, it is not inconceivable that the government's Basseej paramilitaries planted the bombs, which have killed many Ahwazi Arab civilians over the past year.

"We challenge the government to publish all its 'evidence' and let the world judge for itself the veracity of Iran's claims."