June 12, 2005

Nine Killed in Bomb Blasts in Iran's oil-rich province


Four bomb blasts struck government buildings in the capital of an oil-rich province near the Iran-Iraq border today, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 36, state-run television reported.

Hours later, two small bombs struck central Tehran, killing one person and wounding four. Iranian authorities blamed the bombings – the deadliest in Iran in more than a decade – on supporters of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

At least four women were among those killed in the explosions in Ahvaz, capital of the southwestern Khuzestan province bordering Iraq.

The blasts struck five days before Iran votes in presidential elections.

Gholamreza Shariati, deputy provincial governor for security affairs, said perpetrators were seeking to undermine public participation in Friday’s presidential elections.

A spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security decision-making body, blamed groups affiliated to Saddam’s former Baathist regime in Iraq.

Shariati said 36 people, including eight police officers, were injured.

Following the first three blasts, experts had tried to defuse a fourth bomb but failed, and it exploded, injuring one of them.

The explosions follow recent violent protests in Ahvaz over alleged plans to alter the proportion of Arabs and non-Arabs in the region.

Amir Hossein Motahar, director of security at the Interior Ministry, said one bomb went off in front of the Ahvaz governor’s office and another next to the city’s housing department. The third bomb blew up in front of the residence of the head of the provincial radio and television station, he said. The fourth bomb, which experts failed to defuse, was placed near the same residence.

Two of the four bombs were car bombs, witnesses said.

Shariati said intelligence and security officials were trying to determine the cause of the explosions but said the target of the explosions was “Iran’s territorial integrity as it was on the verge of presidential elections.”

Ahvaz was the site of two days of violent demonstrations in April after reports circulated of an alleged plan to decrease the proportion of Arabs in the area. Officials at the time confirmed one death but opposition groups said more than 20 demonstrators had been killed. Some 250 were arrested.

The protests were sparked after copies of a letter allegedly signed by Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi circulated in the area. The letter ordered the relocation of non-Arabs to the Ahvaz to make them the majority population. Abtahi denied writing the letter.

Arabs make up about 3% of Iran’s population; Persians account for 51% of the population of 69 million.