A top Iranian general on Monday accused the United States and Britain of training rebels behind a bomb attack on the elite Revolutionary Guards which killed seven commanders and dozens of other people.
This image grab taken from Iran's Al-Alam TV shows a wounded man arriving at a hospital in the southeastern Iranian city of Pisheen, near the border with Pakistan. (AFP Photo)
General Mohammad Pakpour, the head of Guards' ground forces and whose deputy was slain in the bombing, said Washington and London had "trained and equipped" those who carried out Sunday's bombing against Iran's prestigious military force.
"The terrorists were trained in the neighbouring country by the Americans and British. The enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran are unable to tolerate the unity in the country," Pakpour said on state television.
Hours after the suicide attack in restive Sistan-Baluchestan province -- a flashpoint of Sunni insurgency -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad charged that the assault was plotted in neighbouring Pakistan.
He demanded that Islamabad take firm action against the perpetrators even as Tehran registered its protest with Pakistan's envoy in Tehran.
The attacker set off his explosives belt as a meeting of Guards commanders and tribal chiefs during a meeting on Sunday a gymnasium in the city of Pisheen, near the border with Pakistan, in Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
The region has emerged as a restive point of Sunni insurgency with shadowy Jundallah (Soldiers of God) group led by militant Abdolmalek Rigi carrying out a rebellion against the Shiite rule of Iran for several years.
Rigi's group has repeatedly attacked the Guards, the elite military force set up after the 1979 Islamic revolution to protect the Islamic regime from internal and external threats. Related article: Iran Guards -- prestige target for rebels.
The prosecutor of Zahedan, capital of Sistan-Baluchestan, Mohammad Marziah said Sunday's suicide bombing was "accepted" by Rigi.
Provincial chief coroner Abbas Amian has confirmed that his office received 42 bodies of people killed in the attack.
Soon after the bombing, Pakpour threatened retribution.
"The Guards will give a very harsh and crushing response to this group, so the group will never be able to launch another act like this in the country," Fars news agency quoted him as saying.
Washington has denied any involvement.
"We condemn this act of terrorism and mourn the loss of innocent lives," US State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement in Washington on Sunday.
"Reports of alleged US involvement are completely false," he added.
Iran's southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan houses a significant population of ethnic Baluchies who adhere to Sunni Islam.
Iran's hardline as well as reformist media on Monday unanimously condemned the bombing.
"The supporters of unity were targeted by terrorists," read the front-page headline of government-run Iran newspaper, alongside a picture of General Nur-Ali Shushtari, deputy commander of the Guards' ground forces who was among those killed.
"The martyrdom of four Sepah (Guards) commanders" said the headline of reformist Etemad newspaper.
Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi also mourned the deaths of the Guards commanders.
"I humbly ask merciful God to increase the security in the country and especially in Sistan-Baluchestan after the spilling of the blood of our Sepahi sons," the Aftab Yazd newspaper quoted the cleric as saying.
Late on Sunday Ahmadinejad hit out at Pakistan, accusing it of sheltering Jundallah militants.
"We became aware that some of agents in Pakistan were cooperating with the main elements of today's terrorist incident and we consider it to be our right to demand the rendition of these criminals," Fars quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
"We want the Pakistani government not to delay the arrest of the main elements of this terrorist act any longer."
Iran's foreign ministry also "protested against the use of Pakistani territory by the terrorists and rebels against the Islamic Republic of Iran and urged Pakistani authorities to act firmly to prevent the movement of those terrorists and rebels in their country," the official IRNA news agency said.