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Mar. 2, 2004. 02:09 PM
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Iran blames Al Qaeda for attacks
Over 20 Iranians died in attacks in Iraq, Pakistan
Shiites, not U.S., is terror group's real enemy: Iranian vice president

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - An Iranian vice president blamed Al Qaeda for today's attacks on Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan, condemning the terrorist group's rigid thinking for the bombings and shootings that killed more than 20 Iranian worshippers and wounded 69.

Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Iran's vice president for legal and parliamentary affairs, wrote in a message posted on his personal Web site that Al Qaeda considers Shiites more dangerous than their political enemy - the United States.

"The reactionary Al Qaeda terror group reached a conclusion ... that they have two enemies: the United States as the political enemy and Shiites as the ideological enemy," Abtahi wrote.

Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, is a predominantly Sunni militant group, and draws its members from some of the most conservative streams of Sunni thought - segments of Muslim society that consider Shiites heretics.

"Blasts in Karbala and Kazimiya (shrine in Baghdad) today ... are the direct result of this reactionary religious thinking,'' Abtahi wrote.

A total of 185 people were killed in today's bombings in Baghdad and Karbala, Iraq; and Quetta, Pakistan.

Abtahi's comments about Al Qaeda are noteworthy because the United States has accused Iran of harboring Al Qaeda fugitives, many of whom are believed to have fled there from neighboring Afghanistan in late 2001 or early 2002 during the Taliban's fall.

The United States believes those fugitives include bin Laden's eldest son, Saad; Abu Mohammed al-Masri, wanted in connection with the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998; and Abu Musab Zarqawi, whom some U.S. officials describe as the key link between Al Qaeda and toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

President Bush also included Iran in his "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.

Iran still wields tremendous influence in the region and many Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, worry that the now-emboldened Iraqi Shiites - a long-repressed majority in Iraq - will strike up close ties with Iran and become more powerful.

In Iraq, at least 143 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded in today's nearly simultaneous bombings in Baghdad and Karbala, which came during the Shiite festival of Ashoura. They coincided with a shooting attack on Shiite worshippers in Quetta, Pakistan, that killed at least 42 people and wounded more than 150.

At least 22 Iranian pilgrims were killed and 69 others injured in the Karbala explosions, Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said.

Khanjani said some victims in the Kazimiya explosions in Baghdad were Iranian but had no figures.

Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani estimated that as many as 50 Iranians - or almost a third of the 143 people killed in today's attacks in Iraq - were believed to be Iranians. He said information was incomplete and no official figures on confirmed Iranian deaths was available.

Iran's state media have reported that more than 100,000 Iranian pilgrims went to Iraq to mark the feast.

The death of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and his 72 companions in 680 on the plains of Karbala is marked every year with mourning ceremonies in Iran and Shiite communities across the world.

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