Dubai, United Arab Emirates –
Iranian state-linked media reported late Friday that up to 19 people, including a paramilitary Revolutionary Guard commander, had been killed in an attack by armed separatists on a police base in the eastern city of Zahedan.
It was not immediately clear whether the attack, which took place earlier in the day as crowds had gathered at a nearby mosque for Friday prayers, was related to the nationwide anti-government protests that have gripped Iran. The reports did not identify the separatist group.
In a separate development, Iran said it had arrested nine foreigners linked to the protests, which authorities have blamed on hostile foreign entities, without providing evidence.
This grab taken from a UGC video posted online on September 30, 2022, shows Iranians throwing stones at a police station in the southeastern city of Zahedan.
State TV said armed separatists hid among worshipers and attacked a police base near the mosque in Zahedan. The state news agency IRNA quoted witnesses as saying 19 people had been killed and 15 wounded, but there was no official confirmation.
The semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that the head of the Guard’s intelligence department, Seyyed Ali Mousavi, had been shot during the attack and later died.
The province of Sistan and Baluchestan borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and has seen previous attacks on security forces by ethnic Baluch separatists.
Thousands of Iranians have been on the streets for the past two weeks in protests over the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested by Tehran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her mandatory Islamic headscarf too loosely.
The protesters have vented anger over the treatment of women and wider oppression in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations quickly escalated into calls to overthrow the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
The protests have attracted supporters from various ethnic groups, including Kurdish opposition movements in the northwest that operate along the border with neighboring Iraq. Amini was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first erupted in Kurdish areas.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said the nine foreigners arrested include citizens of Germany, Poland, Italy, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, state news agency IRNA reported. It was not immediately clear if they were Iranians with dual citizenship.
The ministry provided no evidence for any of its claims.
Iran has imprisoned a number of Iranians with dual citizenship over the years, accusing them of spying or otherwise undermining national security. Critics accuse Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips to secure concessions from the international community.
A number of Europeans were detained in Iran in recent months, including a Swedish tourist, a Polish researcher and others. Two French nationals arrested in June are accused of meeting protesting teachers and participating in an anti-government demonstration.
Earlier on Friday, Amnesty International said it had obtained leaked government documents showing Iran ordered its security forces to “severely confront” protesters as demonstrations grew in strength earlier this month.
Women hold placards and photos of Iranian Mahsa Amini as they protest her death, in Berlin on September 28, 2022.
The London-based rights group said security forces had killed at least 52 people since protests over Amini’s death began nearly two weeks ago, including by firing live ammunition into crowds and beating protesters with batons.
It said security forces had also beaten and groped female protesters who removed their headscarves to protest the way Iran’s theocracy treats women.
Amnesty said it had obtained a leaked copy of an official document which says the armed forces’ general headquarters ordered commanders on September 21 to “seriously confront troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”. The rights group said the use of lethal force escalated later that evening, with at least 34 people killed that night alone.
It said another leaked document showed that two days later the commander of Mazandran province ordered security forces to “confront mercilessly, going so far as to cause death, all disturbances by insurgents and anti-revolutionaries”, referring to those who opposed the 1979 revolution .
Amnesty did not say how they had obtained the documents. There was no immediate comment from Iranian authorities.
Iranian state TV has reported that at least 41 protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began on September 17. An Associated Press tally of official statements by authorities tallied at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 protesters arrested.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 28 reporters have been arrested.
Iranian authorities have severely restricted internet access and blocked access to Instagram and WhatsApp, popular social media applications also used by the protesters to organize and share information.
That makes it difficult to assess the scale of the protests, especially outside Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.
Iranians have long used virtual private networks and proxy servers to get around government internet restrictions.
Shervin Hajipour, an amateur singer in Iran, recently posted a song on Instagram based on tweets about Amini; it received more than 40 million views in less than 48 hours before it was taken down. The Iran Human Rights Organization, based in Norway, said Hajipour had reportedly been arrested. There was no official confirmation.