Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has ordered an investigation into clashes in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan last week that left dozens dead including military officers, his office said on Thursday.
State media in Iran characterised the unrest that started on September 30 after Friday prayers as attacks by “extremists” on police stations in the provincial capital Zahedan that killed a commander of the Revolutionary Guards, the Iranian army’s ideological arm.
But a local religious leader, who had warned last week that the community was “inflamed” after a recent case involving the alleged rape of a teenage girl by a police officer, said that the force “shot unarmed civilians”.
“Following the recent events in Zahedan… Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi was ordered by the president to travel there for a thorough investigation concerning the origins and causes of the incident,” said a statement on the president’s website.
The minister told state news agency IRNA he wanted to “examine the incident up close”.
IRNA said on Wednesday that one of the officers wounded in the clashes had succumbed to his wounds, raising the death toll among security forces to six.
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The official figure reported by Iranian media puts the overall deaths at 20.
Tasnim news agency on Saturday reported that the Sunni Muslim rebel group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) had claimed responsibility for the attack in Zahedan, one of the few Sunni-majority cities in predominantly Shiite Iran.
In recent years, the jihadist group has been the most active armed faction in Sistan-Baluchestan — Iran’s poorest province, on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan — carrying out several high-profile bombings and abductions.
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Butinfluential local Sunni cleric Molavi Abdol Hamid rejected “any involvement of Jaish al-Adl or any other group”, in a statement released Wednesday on his website.
He implored the government to launch “an impartial and balanced investigation”.
Abdol Hamid said that “a group of officers… opened fire Friday evening on a crowd that gathered around a mosque, killing and wounding multiple young people.”
One of them, “who had a gun, retaliated by firing at their vehicles to defend the mosque, without knowing who was” in the cars, the cleric said.
The violence in Zahedan comes against the backdrop of nationwide unrest that erupted after the September death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by the morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code.