Suicide Bombing Kills 27 Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
A suicide bomber in southeastern Iran killed over two dozen members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary force. The victims had been traveling on a bus through the Sistan-Baluchestan region bordering Pakistan when a car full of explosives detonated nearby.
Members of the al-Qaeda-linked Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for the attack. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard also implicated Jaish al-Adl in the attack, blaming "takfiri terrorists and mercenaries of the intelligence services of hegemonic powers." The term takfiri refers to Sunni extremists who see other Muslims as non-believers. Jaish al-Adl has been launching attacks along the Iranian-Pakistani border since 2013, frequently abducting Iranian security forces.
Iran was quick to try to link the attack to the United States. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif questioned the coincidence of the attack occurring the same week as the U.S.-led meeting in Warsaw that supposedly focused on anti-Iranian objectives. The meeting hosted several of Iran’s key adversaries, including Saudi Arabia and Israel. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed that the focus of the meeting was Middle East stability and peace, yet he did note that “making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence” would be an essential part of the discussion. Furthermore, the attack occurred the same week that Iran was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. The 1979 Revolution, in which Iranians ousted a U.S.-backed Shah, has come to symbolize the anti-American sentiment in Iran.
Days after the Revolutionary Guard claimed that the U.S. was responsible for the attack, the Iranian Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour cast blame on Pakistan. Pakpour identified the suicide bomber to be the Pakistani national Hafiz Mohammad Ali. Members of Jaish al-Adl reported to have assisted Ali included two other Pakistanis as well as three Iranians. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi responded to Pakpour by assuring Pakistan’s willingness to cooperate with Iran to determine the source of the attack.
Violence is not uncommon in the Sistan-Baluchestan province. The province lies on a major smuggling route for Afghan opium and heroin, making it the site of frequent clashes between drug traffickers and Iranian forces. Situated on the border between two contentious countries, the province is also a platform for regional contention. Though the the Sunni-majority Baloch population is divided between Iran and Pakistan, it maintains strong nationalist sentiments which have driven a Baloch separatist movement. Iran has accused Baloch nationalists of being Saudi-sponsored jihadi militants and has repeatedly blamed Pakistan for providing refuge to these militants so that they can launch attacks against Iran. February’s suicide bombing comes as another violent event in a year of armed clashes, kidnappings, and artillery shellings in Sistan-Baluchestan.