TEHRAN, Iran — The Iranian authorities executed 16 Sunni insurgents Saturday, Iranian media reported, in retaliation for an attack a day earlier that killed 14 guards on the volatile southeastern border with Pakistan.
The 14 soldiers, most of them conscripts, were killed at dusk Friday at a border post near the city of Saravan when a group of armed men crossing the border gunned them down using automatic weapons, the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency reported Saturday. Seven other soldiers were wounded, the news agency said, and some local reports said the attackers also took three guards hostage.
In retaliation, 16 “bandits linked to groups against the system” were hanged early Saturday, Mohammad Marzieh, the chief prosecutor in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province, told the semiofficial Fars news agency. It was unclear whether the executed men were already in custody in the province or were rounded up, but they were not believed to be connected to the border attack.
“We had issued warnings previously that bandits and anti-Iran group members who commit acts causing damage to innocent people or security and military personnel will face reciprocal action by us,” Marzieh said. “This morning, in retaliation for the martyrdom of border guards at the town of Saravan, we hanged 16 members of these anti-Iran groups. The judiciary will absolutely not tolerate such actions by these groups.”
The retaliatory response highlights the deep tensions in Sistan and Baluchestan province, a hotbed of Sunni resistance against the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran. The border area shared by Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan has long resembled a war zone, and more than 3,500 members of Iranian security forces have been killed in clashes with smugglers transporting heroin and opium to Iran, Turkey and Europe.
The attack on the border guards was preceded by the killing of two members of the influential Rigi family, who in the past decade have led an armed separatist struggle in the province seeking independence from Iran and involving suicide attacks, assassinations and abductions.
Websites connected to separatist groups said the men, Karim Rigi and Gholamreza Rigi, were killed Oct. 16 by local Iranian security forces, although official websites deny involvement.
President Hassan Rouhani, who promoted minority rights during his campaign, condemned the killing of the 14 guards and called for an investigation.