An attack by armed separatists on a police station in a southeastern city has killed 19 people, including four members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported on Saturday.
The assailants in Friday’s attack hid among worshipers near a mosque in the city of Zahedan and attacked the nearby police station, according to the report.
IRNA quoted Hossein Modaresi, the provincial governor, as saying that 19 people were killed. The outlet said 32 Guardsmen, including Basiji’s volunteer forces, were also injured in the clashes.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was related to the nationwide anti-government protests that gripped Iran after the death in police custody of a young Iranian woman.
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Sistan and Baluchistan province borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and has seen previous attacks on security forces by ethnic Baluchi separatists, although Saturday’s Tasnim report did not identify a separatist group allegedly involved in the attack.
IRNA on Saturday identified the dead as Hamidreza Hashemi, a colonel in the Revolutionary Guards; Mohammad Amin Azarshokr, member of the Guard; Mohamad Amin Arefi, a Basiji, or IRG volunteer force; and Saeed Borhan Rigi, also a Basiji.
Tasnim and other state-linked Iranian media outlets reported on Friday that the head of the Guards intelligence department, Seyyed Ali Mousavi, was shot during the attack and later died.
It is not unusual for IRG members to be present at police bases across the country.
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Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in the past two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been detained by morality police in the capital Tehran for allegedly wearing the mandatory Islamic veil too loosely. .
Protesters expressed their anger at the treatment of women and the broader crackdown in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations quickly turned into calls for the overthrow of the clerical system that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
The protests have drawn 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 broke out in Kurdish areas.
Iranian state television reported that at least 41 protesters and policemen have been killed since the demonstrations began on September 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities put at least 14 dead, with more than 1,500 protesters arrested.
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Also on Friday, Iran said it had arrested nine foreigners linked to the protests, which authorities blamed on hostile foreign entities, without providing evidence.
It has been difficult to gauge the scope of the protests, particularly outside of Tehran. The Iranian media has only sporadically covered the demonstrations.
Witnesses said scattered protests involving dozens of demonstrators took place around a university in central Tehran on Saturday. Riot police dispersed the protesters, who chanted “death to the dictator.” Some witnesses said the police fired tear gas.
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Meanwhile, Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi reminded Iran’s armed forces of their duty to people’s lives and rights, the foreign-based opposition’s Kaleme Telegram channel reported.
Mousavi’s Green Movement challenged Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election with unrest on a level not seen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution before being crushed by the authorities.
“Obviously, the capacity that you have been given is to defend the people, not to repress the people, to defend the oppressed, not to serve the powerful and the oppressors,” he said.