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Iran Says Rebels Killed 16 Abducted Policemen

Purported Jondollah members in a recent photograph

Purported Jondollah members in a recent photograph

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has announced that a Sunni rebel group killed all of the 16 police officers it abducted in a town in the southeast of the country in June, shortly after they were kidnapped, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which Shi'ite-dominated Iran says has links with Al-Qaeda, took the 16 police hostage from a checkpoint in the town of Saravan in Sistan-Baluchestan Province, demanding the release of 200 of its jailed members.

The group, which reportedly had transferred the hostages to Pakistan, said last month it had killed four of the hostages.

Iran's deputy police chief, Ahmadreza Radan, said all of the abducted policemen had been killed by the rebel group.

"Investigations made by Iranian government and...police showed all of our loved ones have been martyred by Jundallah terrorists," IRNA reported. "We are investigating how to retrieve their bodies [from Pakistan]."

The rebels operate mostly in Sistan-Baluchestan, a volatile region near the border with Pakistan, home to Iran's mostly Sunni ethnic Baluchis and notorious for clashes between security forces and drug smugglers.

In August 2007, Iran accused Jundallah of kidnapping 30 people in the province. The hostages, who were taken to Pakistan, were freed later by Pakistani forces.

The group claimed earlier in 2007 responsibility for an attack on a bus carrying Iranian Revolutionary Guards that killed 11 people.

Iran says the group's head, Abdolmalek Rigi, is a leader of the Al-Qaeda network in Iran. In an interview in August, Rigi told Al-Arabiyah television that he was thinking of expanding its operations to defend the rights of Sunni Muslims in the Islamic state. Iran denies Western allegation that it discriminates against religious and other minorities.