By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI (Reuters) – At least three people died and 48 others were injured in a suicide car bomb attack on a police headquarters in Iran’s southeast on Thursday, state media reported.
Television also reported shooting in the area, located in the region of Sistan-Baluchestan, which is home to a Sunni Muslim minority in the largely Shi’ite country and has long been plagued by violence from both drug smugglers and separatists.
“Three people were killed and some others were injured,” Rahmdel Bameri, acting governor of the coastal city of Chabahar told state television, which reported the figure of 48 hurt. Mohammad Hadi Marashi, deputy governor for security affairs, told state TV two police officers were among the dead.
Videos posted on Twitter, purportedly from Chabahar, showed thick smoke rising from the area.
“Police stopped the explosive-laden car and started firing at the driver … who then set off the explosion near the police headquarters in Chabahar,” said Bameri.
The SITE Intelligence Group reported that Sunni jihadist group Ansar al-Furqan had claimed responsibility for the attack.
In June, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had killed the group’s suspected leader, Molavi Jalil Qanbar-Zehi, in a mountainous area of Sistan Baluchestan. A year ago the group claimed responsibility for a blast at an oil pipeline in Iran’s southern Khuzestan province.
Suicide bombings are rare in Iran, but Sunni militant groups have carried out several attacks on Iranian security forces in the Sistan-Baluchestan province in recent years.
Iran has stepped up security in border areas after gunmen in September opened fire on a military parade in Iran’s southwestern city of Ahvaz, killing 25 people, almost half of them members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards corps.
Last year, in the first deadly assault claimed by Islamic State in Tehran, 18 people were killed at the parliament and mausoleum of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Tehran accuses its Sunni-led regional rival Saudi Arabia and the United States of funding Sunni militants, a charge Riyadh and Washington deny.
“Foreign-backed terrorists kill & wound innocents in Chabahar. As we’ve made clear in the past, such crimes won’t go unpunished,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Mark my words: Iran WILL bring terrorists & their masters to justice.”
Iran also says that militant groups are sheltering across the border in Pakistan and has threatened to attack their bases if Islamabad does not confront them.
Chabahar is a free trade zone and the site of an Indian-backed port complex being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for landlocked Afghanistan.
The Indian foreign ministry strongly condemned the “despicable terrorist attack”.
“The perpetrators behind this dastardly attack should be brought to justice expeditiously. There can be no justification for any act of terror,” the ministry said.
India has said it is ready to invest up to $500 million in the development of the port that is key to its ambitions to chart a route to landlocked Central Asian countries and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Washington has granted exceptions to some U.S. sanctions on Iran for the project.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom and Sanjeev Miglani in Delhi; Writing and reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Andrew Cawthorne and Peter Graff)