(Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it had arrested 13 members of a terrorist group that authorities in the Islamic state say carried out attacks on minority Sunnis, state television reported.
The armed group was linked to the Islamic state’s “foreign enemies,” state television said, using a phrase that usually refers to the United States and Israel.
“The group was directly involved in last year’s assassination of a Sunni Friday prayer leader … a Sunni member of an influential clerical body … and a Sunni religious leader,” an Intelligence Ministry statement said, television reported.
The ministry did not identify the group nor say whether those detained were Sunni rebels in southern Iran or Kurdish separatists based in mountainous areas close to the borders with Iraq and Turkey.
According to state television, Intelligence Ministry agents who detained the 13 suspects at locations around the country, also seized 10 bombs and 500 kg of explosives from the group, which had planned more attacks.
Sectarian violence is relatively rare in Iran, whose Shi’ite leaders reject allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
Many Sunnis live in southeastern Iran, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.
Iranian officials often accuse the United States and Israel of supporting terrorists. The both dismiss such allegations.
Washington and its European allies accuse Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb under cover of a civilian programme. Iran denies any such intention.
(Reporting by Hossein Jaseb, Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jon Boyle)