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Iran Hangs 13 Members Of Sunni Rebel Group


Abdolmalek Rigi
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has hanged 13 members of a Sunni rebel group in a volatile southeastern area, but they were put to death in prison and not in public as initially planned, media reported.

The execution of a 14th member of Jundallah (Soldiers of God), a brother of its leader Abdolmalek Rigi, was postponed, Iranian news agencies said, without giving a reason for the delay or for the change in location.

Predominantly Shi'ite Muslim Iran says Jundallah is part of the Sunni Islamist Al-Qaeda network and backed by the United States, Tehran's arch-foe.

"This morning the executions of some members of the Jundallah terrorist group ... were carried out in prison," Hamidi told Fars. "The hanging sentence for Abdolhamid Rigi ... will be implemented by the end of the week."

"Previously the hanging sentences for these convicts were supposed to be carried out in public, but based on final decisions the sentences were carried out in prison," Hamidi said without giving a reason.

Jundallah says it fights for the rights of Iran's minority Sunnis. Most people in Sistan-Baluchestan are Sunni Muslims and ethnic Baluchis. Zahedan is the provincial capital.

On July 13, Fars said the Jundallah members sentenced to hang were convicted of mohareb, or one who is waging war against God, and of killing innocent people.

It did not mention a mosque bombing in Zahedan which killed 25 people in May. Saudi-owned Al Arabiyah television had reported that Jundallah claimed the bombing.

Frequent Clashes

On May 30, three people convicted of involvement in the mosque bombing were hanged in public. A day later clashes broke out between supporters and opponents of a Sunni cleric in Zahedan and six people died in an arson attack, media reported.

Close to Pakistan and Afghanistan, the region has seen frequent clashes between security forces and heavily armed drug smugglers, as well as intermittent attacks by Sunni Baluchi rebels.

Murder, adultery, rape, armed robbery, apostasy, and drug trafficking are all punishable by death in the Islamic state.

The European Union earlier this month denounced Iran for a spate of executions, including the hanging of 20 drug traffickers on July 4 in a jail in a city west of Tehran.

In late June, hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami called on the judiciary to charge leading "rioters" who took part in last month's postelection street protests as mohareb, a crime punishable by death.

The human rights group Amnesty International has listed Iran as the world's second-most prolific executioner in 2008 after China, and says Iran executed at least 346 people last year.