Iran hangs leader of outlawed Sunni militant group

Iran hanged the leader of an outlawed Islamic militant group Sunday after convicting him on charges of terrorism, murder and collaborating with Western intelligence services, including the CIA, state television reported.

Abdol-Majid Rigi, also known as Abdulmalak Rigi, was executed in Tehran's Evin Prison in the presence of the families of the victims of his alleged crimes, state television said. Among other charges, he was found guilty of heresy and corruption on Earth, capital offenses under Iran's Islamic law.

State television claimed the rebel leader acknowledged in court that his crimes contravened Islam and humanity and asked his collaborators not to repeat his mistakes. An official based in eastern Iran said he hoped security in the region would improve with Rigi's demise.

"The terrorist measures of Malak Rigi and his group had taken away the sense of security from people," Ali-Reza Azimi-Jahed, commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Sistan-Baluchistan province, told state television. "Now we witness an increase in the sense of security among people."

The execution marks a milestone in Iran's war against ethnic and religious militant groups on its eastern and western borders. For years, Rigi led a group called Jundallah, a militant Sunni Muslim group that drew support from Iran's struggling ethnic Baluchi minority, a community that straddles part of eastern Iran, western Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Baluchis are Sunni Muslim; Iran is 90% Shiite. Iran's Sunnis, which include Kurds and Arabs as well as Baluchis, say they are treated as second-class citizens, especially under the leadership of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom many view as a sectarian chauvinist.

Since 2002 or 2003, Jundallah has waged a guerrilla war against Iranian authorities along the untamed eastern frontier, slipping in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan as it launched attacks against Iranian officials and government targets.

In October, an alleged Jundallah bomber killed 31 people, including several higher-ups in the Revolutionary Guard, in an operation some analysts say scuttled a potential breakthrough between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear program.

Rigi was captured in February during a still murky operation. The commercial plane he was aboard, bound from the United Arab Emirates for Kyrgyzstan, was grounded by Iranian fighter jets in southern Iran.

Tehran authorities had said Rigi, who was 25 or 26, was on his way to a meeting with U.S. or Western officials who they alleged were giving him funding and weapons.

U.S. and other Western officials have strenuously denied supporting Rigi, whose group borrows religious and ideological traits from Al Qaeda.

daragahi@latimes.com

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