TEHRAN, Iran – Iran blamed the U.S. and Israel on Friday for a bombing in a Shiite mosque in southeast Iran that killed 25 people, saying the countries were trying to stoke sectarian tension with the Sunni Muslim minority.
Iran has repeatedly accused the U.S. and other Western countries of backing militants and opposition groups in the country — charges they have denied. The blame could be intended to mask real sectarian issues between Iran's Sunnis and majority Shiite population.
Thursday's bombing took place in the remote city of Zahedan, which has witnessed attacks by an Islamic militant group called Jundallah that claims to be fighting for the rights of Sunnis and is believed to have Al Qaeda links.
Zahedan, located some 1,000 miles southeast of Tehran near Pakistan and Afghanistan, has also seen frequent clashes between drug smugglers and Iranian police.
The Martyr Foundation, a government organization that provides financial support to victims of terrorist attacks in Iran, said 25 people were killed in the bombing in Zahedan's second-largest Shiite mosque. Earlier official reports Friday said 20 people were killed.
"I announce that ... those who committed the bombing are neither Shiite nor Sunni. They are Americans and Israelis" who want to stoke sectarian conflict in the country, Iranian Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said on the ministry's Web site.
Jalal Sayyah, a senior security official in Zahedan, said 145 people were injured in the bombing and three suspects have been detained.
"Hire of the terrorists by the U.S. was verified based on investigation," Sayyah told The Associated Press.
Sayyah did not say whether the terrorists belonged to a specific group. In 2007, Jundallah, or God's Brigade, killed 11 members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards in Zahedan.
Iran blamed a similar bombing of a Shiite mosque in the country's southwest in April 2008 on three men it said had ties to the U.S. The bombing in the city of Shiraz, located some 550 miles south of Tehran, killed 14 people.
Last month, Iran hanged the men, who the court said were members of a little known monarchist group that wants to overthrow the country's ruling Islamic establishment.