A suicide car bomber claimed by an al-Qaida-linked group attacked a bus carrying members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force today, killing at least 20 people and wounding 20 others, state media reported.
Tehran immediately linked the attack in Iran's restive southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province to an ongoing US-led conference in Warsaw largely focused on Iran, just two days after the nation marked the 40th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The bombing also raised the spectre of possible Iranian retaliation targeting a Sunni militant group called Jaish al-Adl that claimed the attack, which largely operates across the border in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Recent militant assaults inside Iran have sparked retaliatory ballistic missile strikes in Iraq and Syria.
The bombing struck the bus travelling on a road between the cities of Khash and Zahedan, a mountainous region along the Pakistani border that is also near Afghanistan. Images after the blast published by semi-official news agencies showed the explosion tore the bus apart, as passers-by used the light of their cellphones to illuminate the debris.
The state-run IRNA news agency, citing what it described as an "informed source," offered the casualty figures. State television later reported that the death toll could increase.
The Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a statement saying a vehicle loaded with explosives targeted a bus carrying border guards affiliated with its force.
Sistan and Baluchistan province, which lies on a major opium trafficking route, has seen occasional clashes between Iranian forces and Baluch separatists, as well as drug traffickers.
However, in recent months, there's been an uptick in assaults by the Sunni extremist group Jaish al-Adl, or the "Army of Justice." Since its founding in 2012, it has abducted or killed border guards in hit-and-run assaults from its havens in Pakistan. It kidnapped 11 Iranian border guards in October. Five later were returned to Iran and six remained held.
Jaish al-Adl claimed Wednesday's bombing in a statement online. Iranian state-run and semi-official media also blamed the group for the attack.