GENEVA: At least a dozen people and possibly up to 23 have been killed in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchestan province where Revolutionary Guards and security forces have used lethal force against fuel couriers from ethnic minorities and protesters, the United Nations said on Friday.

Iran is investigating an incident in which at least two Iranians were shot dead this week along the border with Pakistan, and Islamabad has handed over the body of one of the victims, the Iranian foreign ministry said a week ago.

The shooting of people carrying fuel across the border led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, including the capital, Zahedan.

“The series of violent events and unrest began on 22 February, when Revolutionary Guards are alleged to have shot and killed at least 10 fuel couriers, known as sookhtbar, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province at the border with Pakistan, after a two-day stand-off triggered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocking the road to the city of Saravan,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

Revolutionary Guard says plane hijacking disrupted in separate incident

The killings had triggered demonstrations in several cities across the province, during which the revolutionary guard and security forces fired lethal ammunition at protesters and bystanders, he said.

Colville said it had been difficult to verify the death toll due to disruptions of local mobile phone data networks, but some unconfirmed reports estimated that as many as 23 people may have been killed.

“We call on the authorities to immediately restore Internet access in areas that remain disconnected,” he said.

Iran has some of the lowest fuel prices in the world and has been fighting smuggling to neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guard said that authorities had disrupted an attempted hijacking of a passenger plane in flight on Thursday night, though it offered few details on what happened.

The purported hijacking targeted an Iran Air Fokker 100 regional commercial jet heading from the southwestern city of Ahvaz to the northwestern city of Mashhad, the Guard said on its website.

The Guard’s announcement did not identify the hijacker, saying only the hijacker sought to divert the flight to the southern shores of the Persian Gulf.

That description would include the countries of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, three nations long suspicious of Iran’s intentions in the wider region.

It said the Iran Air flight made an emergency landing in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, and no one was injured in the incident.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the purported hijacker had been armed during the attempt.

A Fokker 100 was scheduled to take off from Ahvaz for Mashhad at 7:15pm on Thursday, according to the plane-tracking website FlightRadar24.com.

Iran Air has three of the aircraft in its fleet, each around 30 years old as Iran remains locked out of international aircraft sales due to sanctions.

Iranian domestic flights reportedly carry armed air marshals from the Guard aboard them to disrupt any attempted attack or hijacking.

The Guard took over aviation security in the 1980s after a series of incidents involving Iranian opposition groups seizing aircraft in the unrest that followed the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The last two such attempts happened in 2000.

In September 2000, a man armed with a fake pistol and a gasoline bomb sought to seize an Iran Air Fokker 100, trying to get the flight to go to France. He started a fire aboard and later was detained, according to a US Federal Aviation Administration report.

In November 2000, armed men from four families seized a Yakovlev YAK-40 aircraft flown by Iranian Ariatour Airlines, demanding to be flown to the United States.

Guard air marshals foiled the attempt, though one of them was shot and a second stabbed. A flight attendant and five hijackers also were injured, the FAA report says.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2021

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