US-IRAN: How Was Rigi Arrested?

  • by Mohammed A. Salih (washington)
  • Inter Press Service

Shortly after the news of Rigi's arrest broke out, a triumphant Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi touted the operation as a sign of Iran's 'power' and intelligence capabilities.

'The capture of Rigi without the help of foreign intelligence services demonstrated the power of the Islamic Republic of Iran,' Moslehi told reporters during a news conference in Tehran on Tuesday. He added that Rigi's arrest took place 'through a precise and splendid maneuver and intelligence management.'

Moslehi did not elaborate on the details but promised to soon present 'firm and undeniable' evidence on the links between Jundullah and the U.S., U.K. and Israeli intelligence services. He presented photos that allegedly showed the Jundullah leader in a U.S. base in Afghanistan 24 hours before his arrest. Iranian officials said he was arrested on a flight between Dubai and a central Asian nation.

Jundullah, or the Soldiers of God in Arabic, is an armed group that claims to be fighting for the rights of Iran's Baluch minority. The Baluchis are Sunni Muslims living in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, one of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. The province borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is also a Baluchistan province on the other side of the border in Pakistan.

The arrest of Rigi without foreign help has been the cornerstone of the Iranian narrative. But further details that emerged since Tuesday have belied that official line.

Shortly after the announcement of Rigi's arrest, Iranian Diplomacy, a website run by Seyyed Mohammed Sadeq Kharazi, a former Iranian ambassador to the United Nations and France, cited 'a knowledgeable source' as saying that Rigi's arrest was carried out with 'the cooperation of the Pakistani intelligence apparatus.' Kharazi had served under former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist Mohammed Khatami.

U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh had said that under former President George W. Bush, the Central Intelligence Agency had supported Jundullah. On Thursday, Iran's state Press TV broadcast 'confessions' from Rigi in which he said he had been assisted under the current U.S. administration as well.

'After [Barack] Obama was elected, the Americans contacted us and they met me in Pakistan. They met us after clashes with my group around Mar. 17 in (the southeastern city of) Zahedan, and he (the U.S. operative) said that Americans had requested a meeting,' Rigi was quoted as saying by Press TV.

'I said we didn't have any time for a meeting and if we do help them they should promise to give us aid. They said they would cooperate with us and will give me military equipment, arms and machine guns. They also promised to give us a base along the border with Afghanistan next to Iran,' Rigi was quoted as saying.

The U.S. has strongly rejected any relationship with Jundullah and has called the Iranian claims 'ridiculous', according to the BBC Persian website.

On Wednesday, Pakistan's ambassador to Iran, Mohammad Bakhsh Abbasi, told reporters in Tehran that Rigi's arrest 'did not happen without the help of Pakistan.'

'You'll discover more in the coming days about how we cooperated with our Iranian brothers in this regard,' Abbasi said on Wednesday. 'One brother of Abdolmalek Rigi, Abdolhamid Rigi, has already been handed over to Iran by the Pakistani authorities. All this shows that we are with Iran and our relationship is friendly and brotherly.'

The move comes as part of a series of recent efforts by the Pakistani authorities to detain the leaders of Sunni militant groups inside their borders. Pakistani and U.S. forces have arrested several key Taliban leaders in recent weeks.

On Thursday, Radio Free Europe quoted Taalaibek Turumbekov, the deputy chief of Kyrgyzstan's national airline, as saying that Rigi was travelling onboard one of their planes. Turumbekov said that the plane was made to land on Feb. 23 in the southern city of Bandar Abbas, escorted by two Iranian bombers. The plane was kept on the ground for four hours and of the 119 passengers on board, Iranian security forces arrested two of them.

The successful operation is seen as a boost to Iran's intelligence forces and a serious blow to a major armed group that has been fighting against the Islamic Republic in recent years.

Jundullah has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly attacks and abductions inside Iran. In its highest profile attack, Jundullah killed 40 people including 15 revolutionary Guard members. Among the dead was Nour Ali Shoushtari, the deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guard's ground forces.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service