Iran hit by wave of bombings, blames US

Monday, June 13, 2005 - ©2005

LONDON, June 13 (IranMania) - Iran was struck by a wave of deadly bombings in this restive southwestern city and the capital Sunday, with the Islamic regime accusing US-backed "terrorists" of seeking to destabilise the country just days ahead of presidential elections, according to AFP.

At least eight people were killed and 75 wounded by a series of four blasts outside several public buildings in Ahvaz, an ethnic Arab majority city close to the Iraqi border that is capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province.

Later Sunday, another blast hit a busy square in Tehran, killing two people and seriously wounding at least two others, official media said.

Two smaller home-made bombs were reported to have exploded in other parts of the capital, without causing any casualties.

"The terrorists of Ahvaz infiltrated Iran from the region of Basra" in southern Iraq, top national security official Ali Agha Mohammadi told AFP.

"These terrorists have been trained under the umbrella of the Americans in Iraq," he charged, adding that Iran suspected British troops across the border might also have links to the separatist group -- the London-based Ahvaz Arab People's Democratic-Popular Front.

"We call on the Americans and the British to condemn these attacks and hand over the terrorists in Iraq. Sadly, they have so far not said anything," Mohammadi said.

He said "several terrorists have been arrested", but gave no further details.

Ahvaz was hit by several days of ethnic unrest in April, with the 26-year-old Islamic regime then blaming "counter-revolutionaries".

Iran's main armed opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, is based across the border in Iraq, and Mohammadi said he believed they were involved in some of Sunday's attacks in Tehran.

"The calls for a boycott of the vote had failed, so the terrorist groups based in Iraq are trying to use attacks to disrupt the election and prevent a strong voter participation," he said.

Iran is due to go to the polls to elect a new president on Friday.

"The attacks are a failure, because in the past the regime has been confronted by far worse," said Khuzestan's deputy governor, Gholam Reza Shariati.

An AFP reporter in Ahvaz said the area around the local governor's office, one of three public buildings targeted, was strewn with shards of glass and rubble.

Scores of police had sealed off the area, and by early evening municipal workers were already clearing the scene and mopping up pools of blood.

"It was inhuman, a horrible thing. There was a small child walking around looking for his dead mother," said Abdol Hossein Kord-Zanghaneh, a male nurse at an Ahvaz hospital where many of the casualties were taken.

"This is an American plot," he said, adding that many of the wounded had suffered concussion and blown ear drums.

The huge blasts occurred between 9:00 am and 11:00 am (0430 to 0630 GMT), hitting the governor's office, two other public buildings and a residential area which is home to the director of state television operations in Ahvaz.

The explosion in Tehran occurred at Imam Hossein square, interior ministry spokesman Jahanbaksh Khanjani told AFP. Witnesses said the blast was heard after 8:00 pm (1530 GMT), adding the bomb was hidden in a rubbish bin.

Ahvaz, situated 500 kilometres (320 miles) southeast of Tehran and 50 kilometres (32 miles) from the Iraqi border, was rocked by ethnic violence from April 15-18.

According to official figures, five people were killed in those clashes, which appeared to have been sparked by a forged letter, dating back seven years and attributed to then vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi, calling for changes to Khuzestan's ethnic make-up.

On Friday, Iran is due to go the polls to elect a successor to reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Informal opinion polls in the Iranian press suggest that none of the eight candidates will be able to secure the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to win. That means the top two would have to go into a run-off -- unprecedented in the 26-year history of the Islamic republic.

Tipped as the frontrunner is powerful ex-president and pragmatic conservative Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Trailing him are the main reformist candidate Mostafa Moin and the hardline former national police chief, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

The close-run campaign has been heating up, with regular reports of politicians suffering violent attacks.

But Iran vowed it would "shame" the United States by drawing a huge turnout in the polls and disprove predictions of a voter boycott. The United States has dismissed the election as rigged.