Iran suicide bombing ‘kills 27 Revolutionary Guards’

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…As US fails to halt Iran bid to free frozen billions***

A suicide attack in south-eastern Iran has killed at least 27 members of the Revolutionary Guards and wounded 13 others, state media say.

The bomber targeted a bus transporting personnel in Sistan-Baluchestan province near the border with Pakistan.

The Sunni Muslim militant group, Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), has said it was behind the bombing.

The Revolutionary Guards, which is a major military, political and economic force in Iran, blamed foreign powers.

What do we know about the attack?

The Revolutionary Guards branch in south-eastern Iran said a unit of its ground forces had been returning from the Pakistan border area on Wednesday when a car filled with explosives blew up beside their bus on the Khash-Zahedan road.

In a statement, it blamed “takfiri terrorists and mercenaries of the intelligence services of hegemonic powers”. “Takfiri” is a term used to describe Sunni extremists who see other Muslims as non-believers.

It did not identify the “hegemonic powers”, but Iran’s foreign minister linked the bombing to a US-led conference on the Middle East taking place in Warsaw, Poland, that will include discussions about Iran’s activities in the region.

This is one of the deadliest attacks on the elite forces in years, correspondents say.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

Created to defend the country’s Islamic system and to provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces

Estimated to have some 125,000 troops

Includes ground forces, navy, air force, intelligence and special forces

Thought to control around a third of Iran’s economy through a series of subsidiaries and trusts

Believed to have staff in embassies around the world, from where it allegedly conducts intelligence operations and organises training camps and arms shipments for foreign militant groups

In the meantime, an international court Wednesday ruled Iran can proceed with a bid to unfreeze assets in the United States, rejecting Washington’s claims the case must be halted because of Tehran’s alleged support for international terrorism.

Washington had argued that Iran’s “unclean hands” — a reference to Tehran’s suspected backing of terror groups — should disqualify its lawsuit to recover $2 billion in assets frozen by the US Supreme Court in 2016.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague threw out some of the US challenges, and said it had the right to hold full hearings at a later date as to whether Tehran will get the money back.

Chief judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said the UN’s top court “unanimously rejects the preliminary objections to admissibility raised by the United States of America”.

The court also “finds that it has jurisdiction” in the case, Yusuf said at the end of an hour-long reading of the decision.

Washington, however, called the court’s ruling a “significant victory” for America because it threw out a key issue pertaining to Iran’s claims of sovereign immunity.

The case is one in which “the Iranian regime seeks to misuse legal process and distort principles of international law,” the State Department said.

Tehran said the United States had illegally seized Iranian financial assets and those of Iranian companies — and with Iran’s clerical regime facing economic difficulties after sanctions and a fall in its currency, resolving the case remains crucial.

The US Supreme Court had said Iran must give the cash to survivors and relatives of victims of attacks blamed on Tehran, including the 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Beirut and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.

Iran said the freezing of the funds breached the 1955 Treaty of Amity with the United States, an agreement signed before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution severed relations between the countries.

The United States announced in October that it was pulling out of the Treaty of Amity after the ICJ in a separate case ordered Washington to lift nuclear-related sanctions on humanitarian goods for Iran.

The ICJ is the top court of the United Nations and was set up after World War II to resolve disputes between member states. Its rulings are binding and cannot be appealed, but it has no means of enforcing them.

‘Unclean hands’
Tensions between Tehran and Washington are high around the 40th anniversary of the Iranian revolution and a Middle East meeting in Warsaw where the United States aims to pile pressure on Iran.

Long-fraught relations had already been further strained by US President Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull out of a “terrible” international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions.

The 2015 nuclear deal had unblocked billions of dollars in other Iranian funds.

Iran first lodged the lawsuit in June 2016, accusing Washington of breaking the decades-old amity treaty dating from the time of the Shah, who was deposed in the revolution.

Judge Yusuf noted that at the last hearing on Iran’s funds in October, the United States had argued “that Iran’s ‘unclean hands’ preclude the court from proceeding with this case.”

But he added that “even if it were shown that (Iran’s) conduct was not beyond reproach, this would not be sufficient” on its own to throw out the case.

He also said the fact that the US had now pulled out of the amity treaty with Iran “has no effect on the jurisdiction of the court” and that it now needed to hold detailed hearings.

US officials including US National Security Advisor John Bolton have previously called the ICJ’s legitimacy into account, and were incensed by October’s ruling by the court that Washington must drop sanctions on humanitarian goods.

In Poland this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is seeking to use a two-day conference of foreign ministers to try to rally the world behind increasing pressure on Iran and supporting Israel.

The Trump administration has found itself at odds with its European allies over the nuclear deal, with EU powers launching a mechanism to bypass sanctions.

BBC with additional report from AFP