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Homemade Bomb On Iranian Plane Defused

Workers clean up inside the Amir al-Momenin Mosque after the bomb blast in Zahedan.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Security personnel defused a homemade bomb found on an aircraft during a domestic flight in Iran, Iranian media have said, two days after a mosque bombing killed 25 people in the country's southeast.

The incident occurred less than two weeks before the Islamic republic holds a presidential election in which the conservative incumbent, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, faces a challenge from reformists.

"The enemies want to create a security-threat environment before the country's presidential election and to create hopelessness among people," the official IRNA news agency quoted Mohammad Hassan Kazemi, a commander in the elite Revolutionary Guards in charge of aviation security, as saying.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the device was defused after the Tehran-bound Kish Air aircraft with 131 passengers on board made an emergency landing in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.

"The plot...was unsuccessful due to the security forces' awareness and those behind it were arrested," IRNA said, without giving further details.

Ahvaz is the capital of Khuzestan Province, where many of Iran's oil fields are located. The province borders Iraq and is home to the mainly Shi'ite Muslim country's Arab minority.

On May 28, a bombing in a popular Shi'ite mosque in the southeastern city of Zahedan killed 25 people and wounded more than 120. Three men convicted of involvement in the mosque bombing were executed in public on May 30 in Zahedan.

A Sunni opposition group named Jundallah (Soldiers of God), which Iran says is part of the Islamist Al-Qaeda network and backed by the United States, said it was behind the bombing, Saudi-owned Al-Arabiyah television said.

Iran has previously accused the United States, its arch-foe, of supporting Sunni rebels operating on its border with Pakistan. Jundallah says it fights for the rights of Iran's minority Sunni population.

Kazemi said he could not confirm whether there was a connection between the May 30 plane incident and the mosque bombing.

The May 28 bombing was the deadliest such incident in Iran since its 1980-88 war with Iraq. A blast in a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz killed 14 people in April last year, but the country has otherwise been relatively peaceful.