Militants ambush Iranian Guards unit in Sistan-Baluchestan

Iranian news agencies said four ethnic Arab militants were executed after being sentenced to death.
Wednesday 03/03/2021
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) troopsinspect cars at the entrance of Qom, Iran. (AFP)
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) troopsinspect cars at the entrance of Qom, Iran. (AFP)

DUBAI--Sunni Muslim Baluchi militants attacked a vehicle belonging to Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Tuesday in the south-east of the country, which has been hit by unrest in the past week, state broadcaster IRIB reported.

It quoted Mohammad Hadi Marashi, deputy governor of the impoverished Sistan-Baluchestan province, as saying the vehicle belonged to a Guards engineering unit.

The Guards said in a statement that one member of its engineering unit was injured and another was missing after the attack.

Marashi said the attack was carried out by the Sunni militant group Jaish al Adl (“Army of Justice”), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the minority ethnic Baluchis in mainly Shia Muslim Iran.

The group has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks, including a 2019 suicide bombing on a bus that killed 27 members of the IRGC.

In the past, Iran has accused its regional rival, Sunni Arab Saudi Arabia, of supporting Sunni separatist groups who have attacked its security forces. Riyadh has denied the charges.

Separately, Iranian news agencies said four ethnic Arab militants were executed after being sentenced to death on charges including taking part in an attack on a police station in south-western Iran in which two police officers were killed.

In the past, militants and small separatist groups in the predominantly Sunni region have abducted and killed members of the powerful IRGC as part of a violent low-level insurgency against the Shia government. In 2019, Jaish al-Adl claimed a suicide bombing on a bus that killed 27 members of the IRGC force.

Over the last week, protests and violent clashes have rocked Sistan and Baluchestan following the fatal shootings of fuel smugglers at Iran’s border with Pakistan. Outraged demonstrators have stormed government buildings and blocked roads in Saravan. For days, the area saw widespread internet service disruption, which activists described as a government attempt to prevent witness documentation of authorities’ crackdown.

 Repressive moves 

The Iranian government reported that border guards killed at least two people and wounded several more in the mayhem last week. Human rights groups, however, have given higher death tolls. The Centre for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group, reported that Iranian security forces have killed at least 23 protesters. In a statement this week, the group accused IRGC forces of shooting demonstrators “to silence dissent.”

Amnesty International also released a report based on witness testimony and footage Tuesday describing how the demonstrations first erupted. Iranian border guards opened fire on fuel smugglers who were trying to come back into the country after selling the subsidised petrol in Pakistan, the group said. Rage boiled over when security forces blocked the smugglers’ road into Saravan, stranding them in their pick-up trucks at the desert crossing without water or food. When some threw stones and tried to force their way past the checkpoint, officers killed at least 10 fuel traders, Amnesty said.

Sistan and Baluchestan is one of the least developed and most volatile parts of Iran. The relationship between the province’s predominantly Sunni residents and Iran’s repressive Shia theocracy has long been fraught.

In a speech last week, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights accused Iran of carrying out “an apparently coordinated campaign” targeting minority groups since December, including in Sistan and Baluchestan.

“Across the country, the exercise of civic freedoms and political or critical expression continue to be targeted,” she said, expressing concern for “persistent impunity for human rights violations.”