TEHRAN - Iran's military accused the United States and Israel of terrorism as it held a funeral on Tuesday for high-ranking commanders killed in the deadliest attack in the Islamic Republic since the 1980s.
Throngs of uniformed mourners carried the flag-draped coffins of the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces, General Nourali Shoushtari, and other officers blown up by a suicide bomber in volatile southeastern Iran on Sunday.
Fifteen Guards members were among the 42 people killed, including six senior commanders, Iranian media reported. Tribal chiefs and other civilians also died.
The martyrdom of commander Shoushtari added a black page to the U.S. and Israeli terrorist file, said armed forces head Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, quoted by IRNA news agency.
A Sunni rebel group, Jundollah (God's soldiers), has claimed responsibility for the attack in the impoverished province of Sistan-Baluchestan bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Iran, mainly Shi'ite Muslim, says Jundollah is backed by the United States and Britain and has suggested it also has ties with majority Sunni Pakistan. London, Washington and Islamabad have denied involvement. Tehran has often accused its Western foes of seeking to destabilize sensitive border areas.
The head of Sistan-Baluchestan's judiciary, Ebrahim Hamidi, said the suicide bomber had been identified and that he was from the province. The elements behind the terrorist attack will be arrested soon, Fars News Agency quoted him as saying.
Iran's state Press TV said three people had been detained over the bombing, but did not give details.
Sunday's attack, the deadliest such incident in Iran since its 1980-88 war with Iraq, took place a day before talks started between Iranian and Western officials in Vienna aimed at allaying concern about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Thousands of people, mostly military men, attended the funeral ceremony at a Guards base in Tehran, holding pictures of the victims and of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei, we are ready for martyrdom, one banner read.
BORDER OF FRIENDSHIP
The attack highlighted deepening instability in Iran's southeast. Many minority Sunnis live in the desert area, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.
Qasem Soleimani, who heads the Guards' elite Qods force, said it had made it more determined to defend the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution which ousted a pro-U.S. government.
We are an organization which is awaiting to become martyrs, Soleimani said, repeating allegations that the aim of the suicide bombing was to stir sectarian strife.
The Revolutionary Guards, seen as fiercely loyal to Khamenei, handle security in border areas. Their power and resources have increased in recent years.
The force's deputy commander-in-chief, Hossein Salami, said: The terrorists behind this incident and the enemies of he Iranian nation, whoever they are and wherever they are in the world, the Guards will chase them and punish them.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the perpetrators were based in Pakistan and carried out cross-border raids.
Members of this terrorist group regularly violate the border and launch attacks inside Iran, he told a news conference, referring to Jundollah. The hands of those behind the crimes in southeastern Iran must be cut.
He said Iran and Pakistan would hold talks on how to resolve the issue, saying they shared a border of friendship.
Jundollah, which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis, has been blamed for many deadly incidents over the last few years. It reportedly claimed a bombing of a mosque in Sistan-Baluchestan last May which killed 25 people.
On one of its websites, Jundollah said Sunday's attack was a response to the continuous crimes of the Iranian regime against the defenseless and oppressed people of Baluchestan.
Iran rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.
In a separate development on Tuesday, more than 100 Iranian lawmakers filed a complaint to the general prosecutor against opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi for harming the image of the system through his activities.
Mousavi lost June's presidential election to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but says the vote was rigged. The opposition says more than 70 people were killed as Revolutionary Guards and Islamic militia quelled protests that erupted after the poll.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Reza Derakhshi in Tehran and Firouz Sedarat in Dubai; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)