IRNA news agency reported the dead included the deputy commander of the IRGC ground force, Brigadier General Noor Ali Shushtari, as well as IRGC provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan and the Amir al-Momenin unit, "Under" General Rajab Ali Mohammad-Zadeh. Also killed were the IRGC commanders of Iranshahr, Sarbaz and the Pishin region. Dozens of additional casualties were also reported.
Left: "Under" General Rajab Ali Mohammad-Zadeh
Right: Brigadier General Noor Ali Shushtari
The commanders were apparently inside a car on their way to a unity gathering of Shia and Sunni tribal leaders, in the Pishin region (near Iran's border with Pakistan), when an explosive laden attacker approached the convoy and blew himself up.
PressTV reported there were actually two simultaneous explosions: one at the meeting and another targeting an additional convoy of IRGC guardsmen on their way to the gathering.
RajaNews reported that “an approximately 21 year old male was the suicide bomber and was standing at the entrance to the phys-ed center where the gathering was to be held.” (Apparently, Shushtari held such meetings every few weeks.) It also reported that “the security of the eastern parts of the country has recently been handed completely handed over to IRGC".
Iran's parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, condemned the assassination of the IRGC commanders, saying the bombing was aimed at disrupting security in southeastern Iran.
"We express our condolences for their martyrdom. ... The intention of the terrorists was definitely to disrupt security in Sistan-Baluchistan Province," Larijani told an open session of the parliament broadcast live on Iranian state radio.
There were no immediate claims of responsibility, but suspicion likely falls on the Sunni militant group Jundallah (جندالل), or Soldiers of God, which has repeatedly carried out terrorist attacks in southeastern Iran against Shia targets.
In May 2009, the group took credit for a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque that killed 25 people in Zahedan, capital of Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan province, which has witnessed some of the worst attacks by Jundallah. Thirteen group members were subsequently convicted in the attack and hanged in July.
Zehadan mosque damage from a previous Jundallah terrorist attack
Jundallah, comprising Sunnis from the Baluchi (بلوچ) ethnic minority, have waged a low-level insurgency in recent years, accusing the mostly Shia government of persecution. Iran accuses the United States of providing support for the terrorist group, citing a 2008 article in the New Yorker by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh.
Jundallah has carried out bombings, kidnappings and other attacks against Iranian soldiers and other forces in recent years, including a car bombing in February 2007 that killed 11 IRGC guardsmen near Zahedan, Iran.
Jundallah also claimed responsibility for the December 2006 kidnapping of seven Iranian soldiers in the Zahedan area. It threatened to kill them unless members of the group in Iranian prisons were released. The seven were released a month later, apparently after negotiations through tribal mediators.
PressTV video report on the terrorist attack:
Update: Iranian state media is now saying that Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The IRGC has also pointed the finger at U.S. involvement. "Surely foreign elements, particularly those linked to the global arrogance, were involved in this attack," an IRGC statement quoted by television said. The term "global arrogance" is Iranian code for the United States.
State TV has also singled out Britain. "Some informed sources said the British government was directly involved in the terrorist attack ... by organising, supplying equipment and employing professional terrorists," it said.
The attack and the subsequent Iranian charges come right before Iranian officials are due to meet on Monday with their Western counterparts, in a sensitive second round of negotiations in Vienna concerning Iran's nuclear program. (Preceding the first round were stormy public charges by the West over Iran's recent disclosure of a nuclear enrichment facility in Qom.) This new situation threatens to severely complicate the already delicate P5+1 talks with Iran.