Sunday, January 29, 2006

Iran says kidnapped soldiers freed

A group of Iranian soldiers kidnapped near the border with Pakistan nearly two months ago was freed on Sunday, an interior ministry official told AFP.

The source, who asked not to be named, gave no further details on the end to the abductions, which Iranian officials had blamed on a hardline Sunni Muslim group operating in the unruly border area in Iran's southeast. READ MORE

Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said on January 7 that the kidnappers belonged "to groups influenced by the ideology of the Taliban", the hardline Sunni militia which ruled Afghanistan before the US-led invasion of 2001.

Both the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies follow an extreme form of Sunni Islam that regards Iran's official Shiite faith as heretical.

In two videotapes broadcast by the Dubai-based new channel Al-Arabiya, the kidnappers identified themselves as members of the Sunni militant group Jundallah (Soldiers of God).

They had also threatened to kill the hostages unless the Iranian authorities release 16 jailed comrades.

Iranian officials and media had initially insisted the kidnappers were bandits, drug traffickers or dissident tribesmen.

The southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan is notoriously lawless and is a key transit route for opium and other drugs from Afghanistan and Pakistan headed for Europe and the Persian Gulf.