TEHRAN, May 31, 2009 (AFP) - Iranian security officials defused a bomb planted on a domestic passenger plane, officials said on Sunday, the latest incident of violence in the run-up to the June 12 presidential election.
The attempted bomb attack occurred on Saturday on a Kish Air flight headed to Tehran from the oil-rich western city of Ahvaz near the border with Iraq, the Fars news agency reported.
"Last night, 15 minutes after the plane with 131 passengers took off, flight security guards found a handmade bomb placed in the lavatory," Fars said. "The plane landed immediately at Ahvaz airport and the bomb was defused."
The incident occurred just two days after a bomb attack on a mosque in southeastern Iran claimed by a Sunni rebel group killed 25 people, while Ahvaz itself has witnessed several bouts of unrest in recent years.
"Security officials of the Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guards acted well and the incident caused no casualties," Reza Jafarzadeh, spokesman for Iran's Civil Aviation Organisation, told the state broadcaster.
The passengers were calmed and the plane continued the flight to Tehran, Kish Air manager Reza Nakhjavani told the ILNA news agency.
On Thursday, a suicide bomber killed 25 worshippers and wounded 125 in a Shiite mosque in Zahedan, capital of the southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A day later, gunmen on motorbikes fired at an election campaign office of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Zahedan and wounded two campaign members and a child.
The province, which is home to Iran's Baluch minority who adhere to Sunni Islam, has been the scene of a deadly insurgency by a Sunni rebel group which is strongly opposed to the government of predominantly Shiite Iran.
Iran on Saturday hanged three men in public accused of involvement in Thursday's mosque bombing, just 48 hours after the attack, which was reported claimed by the Sunni group Jundullah (Soldiers of God).
The mosque attack was reminiscent of a similar outbreak of violence just days before Iran's last presidential election in 2005 which brought Ahmadinejad to power.
Bombs hit Tehran and Ahvaz, which has a sizable Arab minority, in June 2005, killing at least eight people and wounding scores more.
Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province, which borders Iraq and the Gulf, was also rocked by ethnic violence in April 2005.
Iran in the past has blamed US and British agents in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan for launching attacks on its border provinces with significant ethnic minority populations.
Jalal Sayah, Sistan-Baluchestan's deputy governor, said on Friday that those arrested over the Zahedan attack were "hired by America and the agents of the arrogance."
Iranian officials usually use the term "global arrogance" to refer to Iran's arch-foe the United States.
But US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly denied Washington was behind the attack, saying the United States does "not sponsor any form of terrorism in Iran."
Iranian armed forces chief General Hassan Firouzabadi, in comments reported on Saturday, accused Britain and "Zionists" of involvement in the bombing.
Sistan-Baluchestan has a substantial Sunni minority and lies on a major narcotics-smuggling route from Afghanistan and Pakistan.