Iran hangs 16 rebels 'in reprisal for border deaths'

The BBC's James Reynolds says it is not clear what connection the hanged rebels had with the group that ambushed the border guards

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Sixteen rebels have been hanged in Iran in retaliation for the deaths of at least 14 border guards in an ambush, say Iranian news agencies.

The rebels were "linked to groups hostile to the regime", the attorney general of Sistan-Baluchistan province was quoted as saying.

They were hanged in prison in Zahedan, north-east of Saravan, where the border deaths took place overnight.

It is not clear what link, if any, those hanged had to the border attack.

One report suggests they may already have been tried and convicted, but their executions brought forward following the ambush.

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'Guerrillas'

Friday night's attack in a mountainous region outside Saravan, on the south-eastern border with Pakistan, was blamed by Saravan's member of parliament, Hedayatollah Mirmoradzehi, on "anti-revolution guerrillas".

But reports that a rebel group called Jaish al-Adl had claimed responsibility for the ambush were "not confirmed," Mr Mirmoradzehi told local Tasnim news agency.

A parliamentary committee on national security will look into the attack on Sunday, meeting relevant officials, a committee member was quoted as saying.

An armed Sunni group, called Jundallah, has carried out a number of attacks against the state in recent years.

The Sunni Muslim population in Sistan-Baluchistan complains of discrimination by Iran's Shia establishment.

Analysis

Iran's swift execution of 16 local prisoners in response to the bloody clashes only a few hours earlier smacks of revenge killing by the judiciary.

The prosecutor in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Baluchistan province, said the executions were in response to the killings of Iranian border guards on Friday night.

He also said a group by the name of Jaish al-Adl, the Army of Justice, was responsible for the ambush. This is a hardline Sunni group that says it is fighting for the rights of Sunnis in predominantly Shia Iran and for the rights of the Baluch ethnic minority.

Videos that the group has placed on the internet show them standing under the black Islamic flag of groups affiliated to al-Qaeda - groups that have become more active in Iran's Sunni-dominated provinces in recent years.

"Sixteen rebels linked to groups hostile to the regime were hanged this morning in the prison of Zahedan in response to the death of border guards in Saravan," Mohammad Marzieh, the provincial attorney general of Sistan-Baluchistan province, was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

The hangings were also reported by the Iranian Students News Agency (Isna).

Deadly clashes

At least 14 guards were killed in the ambush, reports now say, though 17 were previously reported to have died. A number were also wounded, reports said.

Fars has quoted the province's deputy governor-general, Rajabali Sheikhzadeh, as saying the culprits fled to Pakistan following the border attack.

The region has experienced frequent deadly clashes in recent years.

Iran lies on a major drug trafficking route between Afghanistan and Europe.

AFP news agency quotes officials as saying more than 4,000 police officers and soldiers have been killed in the past three decades in fighting with traffickers.

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