Iran hangs 16 prisoners in revenge for rebel attack
Border assault killed 14 guards
IRAN'S regime carried out a series of revenge executions yesterday, hanging 16 prisoners in retaliation for a rebel attack that killed 14 border guards.
The bloodshed in Sistan-Baluchestan province showed how south-eastern Iran is still affected by a long-running insurgency.
Sunnis from the Baluch ethnic minority inhabit this remote desert region, near the border with Pakistan. They are viewed with deep suspicion by Iran's Shi'ite Persian rulers. A Baluch armed group styling itself "Jundallah" has fought the government for decades.
On Friday night, gunmen killed 14 Iranian border guards and wounded another five during what IRNA, the official news agency, called "armed clashes in the region of Saravan".
The authorities took revenge by executing 16 inmates of Zahedan prison, all of whom were described as "rebels". There was no suggestion that any of the hanged were responsible for the deaths of the border guards in the latest incident.
But they were all accused of being members of Jundallah.
"We warned the rebel groups that any attack targeting civilians or members of the security forces would not go unanswered," said Mohammad Marzieh, the attorney general of Sistan-Baluchestan, according to the Fars news agency. The hangings took place "in response to the death of border guards in Saravan", he added.
The regime has retaliated in this way before: in December 2010, 11 alleged members of Jundallah were hanged in the same prison after a bomb attack on a Shi'ite funeral.
Iran has accused America, Britain and Israel of arming and training Jundallah.
In 2010, the Iranian air force intercepted a civil airliner carrying Abdolmajid Rigi, the leader of Jundallah, from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan. The aircraft was forced to land in Iran and Rigi was arrested.
After some days in custody, he confessed on state TV to accepting military help from US forces in Afghanistan. Whether Rigi made these statements under duress or physical pressure is unclear. He was hanged three months after his televised confession.
Last night, Ali Abdollahi, the deputy interior minister, told an official news agency: "We want Pakistani officials to take steps regarding more serious and stronger control of their borders than in the past."
He added that three more border guards were captured by the rebels.