Iranian security forces massacred around 96 civilians from Iran's minority Balochi Sunni community two weeks ago, in what was the most severe reaction to anti-government protests amid the unrest in the country over the past month.
In a report by the New York Times, sources consisting of witnesses, activists, family members of the victims, and a medic confirmed that Iranian security forces indiscriminately fired into crowds of protestors and then worshippers at a mosque on 30 September in the south-eastern city of Zahedan.
What has been labelled "Bloody Friday" by the city's residents began with accusations that a a police officer raped a Balochi teenager in another city, resulting in protests against the authorities and security forces in the areas of the Sistan and Baluchistan province.
According to Molavi Abdul Hamid – the Sunni imam leading prayers that day – in a video statement he posted on the messaging app Telegram, a group of 10 to 15 young worshipers left the mosque before prayers had ended in order to protest outside the police station. Prior to the that, the imam said he had advised all worshipers to "maintain peace" and to "control their emotions" until an investigation into the rape accusation had been completed.
As the protests turned violent and some demonstrators began throwing rocks and molotov cocktails at the station, the police responded by firing into the crowd, prompting the protestors to flee back to the same mosque located just opposite. That retreat into a house of worship did not stop the police from continuing to fire on them, however.
The bodies piled up inside the mosque, with nowhere inside the complex to hide or seek cover from the shots. As one lecturer and resident of the city told the paper, "They thought it would be a safe area — the most sacred place in the city. They did not know they were walking back into a deathtrap."
In his video statement, the imam Hamid also said that the majority of the bullets "were shot at the heads and hearts of the worshipers, which turns out to have been done by snipers". A 28-year-old worshipper named Jamshid told the paper that "It was a massacre I had only seen in movies…They started shooting as people still had their heads bowed in prayer."
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Many people managed to escape the scene and find shelter in the Makki mosque – the city's main mosque – half a mile away, where they were treated by a medic named Ahmed. Together with a nurse, Ahmed helped treat over 150 people who were wounded, with significant numbers dieing regardless. The medic said that many of the victims did not want to go to the hospital out of the fear that security forces would arrest them there.
According to the paper, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) confirmed that its forces were present in Zahedan and that six of its members were killed that day, such as its regional intelligence chief Colonel Ali Mousavi and officers from the infamous Basij militia. The IRGC claimed that it did not fire on civilians, however.
Unrest has spread throughout Iran since the death of a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini under police custody last month, after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf loosely. While the police claim Amini died from a heart attack, her family and protesters insist she was beaten to death by the police. The harsh crackdown by security forces have included the firing of live ammunition into crowds, beating protesters, and reportedly groping female protesters who remove their headscarves.
This massacre of around 96 civilians in the predominantly Sunni Balochi areas, though, represents the most severe and brutal crackdown on unrest perpetrated by Iran's authorities. According to experts and analysts, it resembles tactics used by the security forces in previous years, in which they would specifically target minority groups.
Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director for the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told the paper that the method of "shooting to kill — it's the same playbook. When there is a national uprising, they carry out the most killings in ethnic minority areas to give the semblance of defending the homeland."
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