TEHRAN: Iranian authorities on Saturday hanged 16 “rebels” following overnight clashes between alleged rebel groups and Iranian border forces in which 14 border guards were killed on the frontier with Pakistan, a judicial official said.
“Sixteen rebels linked to groups hostile to the regime were hanged this morning in the prison of Zahedan in response to the death of border guards in Saravan,” Mohammad Marzieh, the attorney general of Sistan-Balochistan province, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
“We warned the rebel groups that any attack targeting civilians or members of the security forces would not go unanswered,” he added.
Earlier, Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported armed men killed 14 border guards in clashes Friday night in a mountainous region outside the southeastern town on the border with Pakistan.
“Fourteen border guards were killed during armed clashes in the region of Saravan, and five others were wounded,” the agency quoted an informed source as saying, only identifying the gunmen as “bandits or rebels opposed to the Islamic republic”.
Deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi said that the guards had been killed during the ambush set by Iranians who were “members of hostile groups”.
He claimed that “three soldiers have been taken hostage and taken to the other side of the border in Pakistan”.
Saravan lies in the southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan near the Pakistani border and is home to a large community of minority Sunni Muslims, unlike the rest of Shia-dominated Iran.
The Sistan-Balochistan province has seen militants from the Sunni group Jundallah (Soldiers of God) launch bloody attacks in recent years.
It was still unclear whether the attackers were drug smugglers or armed opposition groups.
However, Iran's Deputy Interior Minister Ali Abdollahi called on the Pakistani government to “take measures to control the border more seriously.”
Pakistan's charge d'affaires was received at the Iranian foreign ministry to receive an official demand that Islamabad “act firmly with officials and members of terrorist groups who have fled to Pakistani territory,” IRNA reported.
Meanwhile, in a separate incident, officials said a Pakistani was killed and four others injured when Iranian border force personnel opened fire in Washap area on the Pakistan-Iran border.
The apparently unrelated incident took place close to Taftan town on the Pakistani side of the border and around 100 kilometres from Zahedan, the main town in Iran’s Sistan province.
A Levies paramilitary official, who requested customary anonymity, said five Pakistanis tried to illegally enter the Iranian side of Washap area this morning when border policemen opened fire on them.
“Iranian border force opened fire when they crossed Pakistan’s border and entered the Iranian side of Washap area,” he said.
The injured were rushed to a hospital in Taftan town for medical treatment. The Levies official said all injured Pakistanis had received bullet wounds.
Security was tightened on both sides of the border soon after the incident.
Iran is a major transit route for drugs that originate in Afghanistan and is trafficked across its territory, with much of it bound for Western countries.
People smugglers also use the route to traffic illegal immigrants to Europe, via Iran and Turkey.
The Islamic republic says it is fighting a deadly war against drug traffickers who make up half its prison population.
But militant group Jundallah has also launched attacks on civilians and officials in Sistan-Balochistan, including a December 2010 suicide bombing in the city of Shabahar that killed 39 people.
Iranian authorities hanged 11 suspected members of Jundallah at Zahedan prison in December 2010 in response to the deadly bombing of the Shia mourning procession in Shabahar.
Jundallah, whose leader Abdolmalek Rigi was hanged in June 2010, has been waging a deadly insurgency in southeastern Iran for almost a decade.
The group says it is fighting for the rights of the ethnic Sunni Balochis who make up a significant part of the Iranian province’s population.
—With additonal reporting by Syed Ali Shah from Quetta.