Pakistan has a role in Rigi’s arrest


LAHORE: The dramatic arrest of the fugitive Jundallah chief Abdolmalek Rigi by Iranian authorities hardly 24 hours after he had left an American military base in Afghanistan has vindicated Islamabad’s October 2009 stance following a deadly suicide attack in Tehran, killing 42 members of Iranian Revolutionary Guards, that the anti-Shia renegade leader was no more hiding in Pakistani and was now operating from Afghanistan.

Rigi, being Iran’s most wanted Sunni terrorist leader had claimed responsibility for several major terrorist attacks carried out in Iran in the recent past including the October 18 suicide bombing in Tehran. He was finally arrested along with his deputy after Iranian fighter planes intercepted a commercial flight over Persian Gulf which was traveling from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan and forced it to make an emergency landing at an unknown location. Informed circles in Islamabad say the most vital tip about the travel plans of Rigi actually came from Pakistan, thus leading to his arrest. The Iranians have already recovered from him his Afghan passport, which according to the Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, had been supplied to him by the United States. The recovery of Afghan passport has also refuted the October 2009 Iranian claim that Abdolmalek Rigi carries a Pakistani national identity card by the name of Saeed Ahmed, son of Ghulam Haider. Rigi comes from the Rigi tribe of Iran, which is ethnically considered a Baloch clan.

Jundallah, or “Army of God”, which is also known in Iran as the Rigi group is a rebel anti-Shia Sunni militant group of Iranian Balochis, who claim to represent their minority’s rights in Iran’s southeast province of Sistan-Balochistan. The dedication of the Rigi brothers to the cause of Jundallah can be gauged from the fact that one of them – Abdolgafoor Rigi – opted to sacrifice him by executing a suicide car bombing on December 28, 2008, against the headquarters of Iran’s joint police and anti-narcotics unit in the Saravan city. Before the arrest of the 30-year-old Rigi, his hideout was believed to be cross-border, in the Pakistani Balochistan. Iran directly blames Jundallah for a series of cross-border guerrilla operations that have been going on since 2003, killing mostly Iranian soldiers and border guards.

In the wake of the October 18, 2009 suicide bombing in Tehran, Islamabad came under tremendous pressure from Tehran for the arrest and extradition of Rigi. Addressing a press conference in Islamabad on March 20, 2009, the ambassador of Iran to Pakistan Mashallah Shakeri accused Pakistan of allowing its soil to be used against Iran and demanding concrete steps to contain its activities. Pakistan consequently maintained that its security agencies were making frantic efforts to dismantle the Jundallah network from Balochistan, adding that Rigi has already moved to Afghanistan after the June 15, 2008 extradition of his younger brother, Abdolhamid Rigi [from Pakistan to Iran], who is now being tried by an Iranian court on terrorism charges.

Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi has described Rigi’s capture as a great defeat for the United States, adding that Washington had been backing him and he was in a US military base in Afghanistan just 24 hours before his capture. “His arrest is a great defeat for the US and UK”, he said at a news conference, while showing pictures of Rigi taken inside a US military base in Afghanistan by Iranian agents, and of his national identity card, and accusing the United States and Britain of involvement in continuous terrorist plots in the region, directed against Iran. The Iranian Minister said that Rigi had contacts with American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Israeli foreign intelligence service Mossad, and he had even met NATO military chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Afghanistan in April 2008.

According to well informed diplomatic circles in Islamabad, Iran suspects the involvement of the CIA in the October 18, 2009 suicide attack in Tehran and other such terrorist actions on its soil. They pointed out that hardly two weeks after Rigi’s April 2008 meeting with the NATO military chief in Afghanistan, the Jundallah had carried out a deadly suicide attack inside the Ameerul Momenin Mosque in Zahedan, in Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran, [on May 28, 2009]killing 25 people.

In a bid to establish his American link, diplomatic circles further reminded that on April 2, 2007, Abdolmalek Rigi appeared on the Persian service of Voice of America, the official broadcasting service of the American government, which identified Rigi as the leader of “popular Iranian resistance movement”. Although the stated objectives of Jundallah, have been to protect Baluch rights in Iran, its birth was extensively viewed by Tehran as Washington’s direct hands-on entry into Iranian politics. Abdulhamid Rigi, the arrested brother of Jundallah chief, admitted during interrogation by an Iranian court in Zahedan in July 2009 that Jundallah was trained and financed by the US. Washington has rejected these allegations as absurd.

At the same time, however, there are those in the Iranian security establishment who considers Jundallah as a Taliban-linked group which is getting financial and ideological support directly from Saudi Arabia in coalition with certain Pakistani hard-line anti-Shia, Sunni groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi. Analysts, therefore, see a discrepancy in Iranian accusations against Jundallah as they accuse on one hand the Americans for backing Jundallah while on the other they allege that the Taliban and al-Qaeda elements were behind the deadly anti-Shia Iranian outfit.

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