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Iran Hangs Militant Insurgent Leader

Pakistani activists of Baloch Rights Council holds a portrait of top Sunni militant leader Abdolmalek Rigi as they shout anti-Iran slogans at a protest in Karachi (File Photo)

Iran has executed the leader of the Sunni Muslim militant group Jundallah. Abdolmalek Rigi had been convicted of carrying out attacks against both civilians and the military in southeastern Iran.

Iranian state media say Abdolmalek Rigi was hanged in Tehran's Evin prison early Sunday. His was the latest in a series of executions of Jundallah members, including Rigi's brother, Abdolhamid, last month.

The militant group has been carrying out a violent campaign to protest what it says is discrimination of Sunnis by the Shi'ite government. Jundallah claimed responsibility for a bombing late last year that killed 57 people, among them members of the nation's elite Revolutionary Guard and, last month, an attack on a mosque that killed 25 people.

Iran has accused the United States of backing the group, with the aim of destabilizing Iran. Washington denies the charge. In a videotaped confession shown on Iranian television, Rigi, in custody, says the Jundallah campaign is driven by the United States and the West.

Iran says Rigi was arrested in February while flying from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. The militant, who was in his mid-twenties, was also shown confessing to plans to meet with U.S. agents in Bishkek.

Tehran accuses Britain as well of supporting the group, and says it gets support from a base in Pakistan. Both London and Islamabad say that is not true.

The group's area of operations, located in Sistan-Baluchestan province along the Pakistan border, is one of the country's poorest and most underdeveloped regions. Sunni Muslims make up less than 10 percent of Iran's overwhelmingly Shi'ite population. It is not clear how widespread support for the group is, nor what affect the executions will have on Jundallah's operations.

Ali Nourizadeh, a senior researcher at the Centre for Arab & Iranian Studies in London, said he believes Rigi's confessions may have been part of an effort to have his brother's life spared. Nourizadeh adds that he interviewed Rigi several times and said he observed his tactics evolving.

"At the beginning, he was very brutal," Nourizadeh said. "He killed many, many innocent people. But lately he was wiser. he would only attack the security forces."

Iranian media say Rigi's execution was carried out in front of relatives of victims of Jundallah attacks.