Iranian national flag bunting hangs in front of the Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran. (Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg)

Bomb Attack in Eastern Iran Kills 27 Members of Elite Guard

(Bloomberg) -- A little-known Sunni militant group claimed responsibility for one of the deadliest assaults on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, drawing threats of retaliation as the toll climbed.

Iran said it was “no coincidence” the attack took place the same day the U.S. opened a conference in Poland focusing on efforts to undermine the Islamic Republic’s economy and curb its military influence. Twenty-seven guardsmen were killed and 13 wounded when a car bomb was detonated late Wednesday near their military bus in southeastern Iran.

The Jaish al Adl militant group, which has been involved in previous attacks inside predominantly Shiite Iran, said it carried out the bombing, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. The group was formed by members of the Jundallah group that is linked to al Qaeda and operates in southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province along the border with Pakistan. Iran executed its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, in 2010.

“Those who carried out this heinous action will certainly pay the price for their crimes,” President Hassan Rouhani said.

The bus was traveling on a highway near the town of Chanali in Sistan-Baluchistan province, state-run Fars news agency reported. While violence and bomb attacks are not uncommon on both Iran’s western and eastern frontiers -- bordering unstable Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- audacious and organized assaults that directly target the Islamic Republic’s security services are rare.

In a statement published by the Tasnim news agency, the Guards accused “agents of intelligence services tied” to the U.S. of carrying out the attack to mar 40th anniversary celebrations of the Islamic revolution this week.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that it was “no coincidence” that the attackers struck just as the U.S. was convening with allies in Warsaw to devise plans against Iran.

The Trump administration has centered its Mideast policy on confronting Iran, with the support of regional allies. Washington quit the 2015 multiparty nuclear accord last year and re-imposed crippling sanctions on the country, vowing to punish it for its missile program and support for militant groups in the region.

The Islamic Republic is engaged in a proxy confrontation with Saudi Arabia and Israel across regional conflicts from Syria, where it backs President Bashar al-Assad, to Yemen.

On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who controls the Guards, said problems between the U.S. and Iran weren’t “solvable” and that negotiations with American officials wouldn’t “lead anywhere apart from financial and moral damage.”

Iranian authorities have blamed the U.S. and its regional ally Saudi Arabia for attempting to fuel dissent inside the country, in particular in border provinces and regions with minority ethnic or religious populations who suffer from low employment and harsher living conditions.

Their suspicions of foreign subversion have been fueled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vow to take the conflict with the Islamic Republic “inside Iran” and the Trump administration’s determination to rein it in.

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