Soldiers kidnapped in Iran freed in negotiations

Seven Iranian soldiers kidnapped last month by an armed group in eastern Iran have been freed, the Interior Ministry said Monday.

A little known Islamic militant group called Jundallah, or God's Brigade, claimed responsiblity for abducting the soldiers and threatened to kill them unless Iran paid a ransom and freed 16 members of the group from its prisons, according to the Al-Arabiya news network, which aired a video from the group earlier this month.

Nine soldiers were snatched in late December near the Iranian-Pakistani border in the eastern province of Baluchistan, where Iranian troops have frequently clashed with bandits and drug smugglers.

The Interior Ministry said seven of the soldiers had been freed "through efforts by security and police agents as well as heads of the local tribes" apparently by negotiations. The ministry said no ransom has been paid, and it gave no word on the fate of the other two soldiers who were abducted.

In the statement, Deputy Interior Minister Mohammadbaqer Zolqadr said the soldiers were kidnapped by "a group of bandits" led by a man named Abdolmalek Rigi. It gave no details on Rigi.

Iran has not acknowledged that it is holding any members of Jundallah but arrested 14 suspected members after the abduction and accused the United States of backing the group.. It rejected the kidnappers' demands and vowed to punish them if any of the hostages were harmed.

A group using the name Jundallah is suspected of numerous terror attacks in Pakistan, but it was not previously known to operate in Iran, reports the AP.


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