Iran delays executing Sunni rebel to get more info

Wed Dec 2, 2009 8:31am EST
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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Shi'ite Muslim Iran has delayed for a second time the execution of a convicted member of a Sunni Muslim rebel group in order to extract information from him, semi-official news agency ISNA reported Wednesday.

Iran has hanged several members of the Jundollah (God's soldiers) group, but the execution of Abdolhamid Rigi, a brother of the group's leader Abdolmalek Rigi, was first delayed in July to get more information from him.

"Based on his confessions on having cooperation with Pakistani intelligence and America's agents, his death sentence has been postponed to gather more facts," provincial judiciary chief Ebrahim Hamidi was quoted by ISNA as saying.

"The country's and the system's interests need him to be alive ... to find out more information on their activities," said the Sistan-Baluchestan top judge.

Many minority Sunnis live in the impoverished area in southeast Iran, which has seen an increase in bombings and clashes between security forces, ethnic Baluch Sunni insurgents and drug traffickers.

Jundollah, which accuses the government of discrimination against Sunnis, said it was behind an October 18 attack -- the deadliest in Iran since the 1980s -- that killed more than 40 Iranians, including 15 from the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Iran has accused Pakistan, Britain and the United States of backing Sunni militants. London, Washington and Islamabad all denied involvement in the attack last month.

Iran, a major oil producer locked in dispute with the United States and its allies over its nuclear program, rejects allegations by Western rights groups that it discriminates against ethnic and religious minorities.

(Reporting by Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Louise Ireland)