TEHRAN, Iran – Iran accused the United States of supporting an Islamic militant group holding nine Iranian soldiers hostage near the country's border with Pakistan, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said Saturday.
The accusation came after the Al-Arabiya satellite network on Wednesday broadcast a videotape of the soldiers and said the militants were members of the extremist Islamic group "Jundallah" or God's Brigade.
The network said the group, which has demanded ransom and the release of 16 of its members from prison, warned the soldiers would be killed if their demands were not met.
"The Americans use such groups against Iran since they could not directly approach Iran," the Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iran's Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi as saying.
"The kidnappers are under the influence of the Taliban," Pourmohammadi said.
He did not explain why Iran believed the U.S. would use Taliban-influenced radicals. Washington deposed Afghanistan's Taliban regime in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
On Thursday, Iran rejected the group's demands, saying it would not allow militants to blackmail the government and vowing to punish the kidnappers if they harmed the captives.
A group using the name Jundallah is suspected of numerous terror attacks in Pakistan, but it was not previously known to operate in Iran.
The soldiers were grabbed in eastern Iran, scene of frequent clashes between the police, drug smugglers and bandits.