A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.
The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.
It has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials.
U.S. officials say the U.S. relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the U.S. provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight.
Tribal sources tell ABC News that money for Jundullah is funneled to its youthful leader, Abd el Malik Regi, through Iranian exiles who have connections with European and Gulf states.
Jundullah has produced its own videos showing Iranian soldiers and border guards it says it has captured and brought back to Pakistan.
The leader, Regi, claims to have personally executed some of the Iranians.
"He used to fight with the Taliban. He's part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist," said Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counterterrorism at the Nixon Center and an ABC News consultant who recently met with Pakistani officials and tribal members.
"Regi is essentially commanding a force of several hundred guerrilla fighters that stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnapping them, executing them on camera," Debat said.
Most recently, Jundullah took credit for an attack in February that killed at least 11 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard riding on a bus in the Iranian city of Zahedan.
Last month, Iranian state television broadcast what it said were confessions by those responsible for the bus attack.
They reportedly admitted to being members of Jundullah and said they had been trained for the mission at a secret location in Pakistan.
The Iranian TV broadcast is interspersed with the logo of the CIA, which the broadcast blamed for the plot.
A CIA spokesperson said "the account of alleged CIA action is false" and reiterated that the U.S. provides no funding of the Jundullah group.
Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.
A senior U.S. government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the U.S. to deal with such groups in that context, ABC News reports.
'We reject any notion that suggests that we are ratcheting up the language in terms of trying to prepare to go to war with Iran. That is certainly not the case,' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a news briefing, Monday.
The reiteration by the White House occurred at the time when US aircraft carrier Nimitz and its support ships are leaving for the Persian Gulf to join another aircraft carrier strike group already in that region.
Last week, Perino said the US is not escalating tensions with Iran and insisted that its naval exercises in the Gulf has been long planned, Indo-Asian News Service reports.
The USS Nimitz and several other American warships left San Diego today for the Persian Gulf to join another locally based aircraft carrier strike group already in the region.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will join the San Diego-based John C. Stennis Strike Group and relieve the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to Naval Air Forces Public Affairs.
Military officials said in a statement that the two-carrier presence in the Persian Gulf area is intended to demonstrate U.S. "resolve to build regional security and bring long-term stability to the region."
The Nimitz's departure comes amid heightened tensions in the region following the detention of 15 British sailors and marines by Iran. Iran maintains the detainees were operating in its territorial waters, a charge the British government denies.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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