TEHRAN — A suicide bomber killed seven commanders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards and dozens of other people Sunday in an attack President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad charged had been plotted from Pakistan.
The foreign ministry called in Pakistan's charge d'affaires over the bombing, which targeted one of the Islamic republic's most prestigious institutions in a hotbed region of Sunni insurgency against the Shiite Muslim regime.
Several tribal leaders in the majority ethnic Baluch Sistan-Baluchestan province also died in the bombing which left many others wounded.
The attacker set off his explosives belt as a meeting of Guards commanders and tribal chiefs got underway around 8.00 am (0430 GMT) at a gymnasium in the city of Pisheen, near the border with Pakistan, the state broadcaster said.
The Revolutionary Guards said in a statement issued late Sunday that "in the criminal action, 31 people were killed and more than 25 injured, some of whom are in serious condition."
Provincial chief coroner Abbas Amian had earlier told the official IRNA news agency his office had received 42 bodies.
The chief prosecutor in Sistan-Baluchestan, Mohammad Marziah, said that Abdolmalek Rigi, the head of the shadowy Sunni rebel group, Jundallah (Soldiers of God) had "accepted the responsibility" for the attack.
Rigi's group has repeatedly attacked the Guards, the elite military force set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the regime from internal and external threats.
Among the dead were General Nur-Ali Shushtari, deputy commander of the Guards' ground forces; General Mohammad-Zadeh, Guards' commander in Sistan-Baluchestan province; the Guards' commander for the town of Iranshahr and the commander of the Amir al-Momenin unit, the Fars news agency said.
Three other commanders from the adjacent province of Kerman were also killed, Fars added.
Related article: Iran Guards -- prestige target for rebels.
The Iranian president hit out at neighbouring Pakistan over the bombing, accusing it of sheltering Jundallah militants.
"We became aware that some of agents in Pakistan were cooperating with the main elements of today's terrorist incident and we consider it to be our right to demand the rendition of these criminals," Fars quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"We want the Pakistani government not to delay the arrest of the main elements of this terrorist act any longer."
Iran summoned Islamabad's envoy in Tehran over the bombing, the ISNA news agency reported.
The foreign ministry "protested against the use of Pakistani territory by the terrorists and rebels against the Islamic Republic of Iran and urged Pakistani authorities to act firmly to prevent the movement of those terrorists and rebels in their country," it added.
Iran's state-owned English language Press TV channel showed several patches of blood, broken glass and footwear scattered at the site of the attack.
Some bodies covered in white sheeting were seen lying nearby.
One of the victims, Mohammad Ayoub Dehghani, who was wounded in the stomach, said the bomber "must have walked through the people to where the commanders and tribal heads were sitting."
"The enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot tolerate the unity, so they hire mercenaries who are supported by the Zionists and arrogant powers to carry out these terrorist attacks," IRNA quoted him as saying.
General Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the Guards' ground forces, threatened retribution for the bombing.
"The Guards will give a very harsh and crushing response to this group, so the group will never be able to launch another act like this in the country," Fars quoted Pakpour as saying.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said the United States was implicated.
"We consider the recent terrorist attack to be the result of US action. This is the sign of America's animosity against our country," Larijani said.
"Mr. Obama has said he will extend his hand towards Iran, but with this terrorist action he has burned his hand," he said referring to US President Barack Obama's repeated diplomatic overtures to Tehran.
The United States denied any involvement.
"We condemn this act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives," State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement in Washington.
"Reports of alleged US involvement are completely false," he added.
Iranian officials have previously accused Britain and the United States of supporting ethnic minority rebels such as Jundallah operating in sensitive border areas.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »