Albin Szakola

Separatists attack security
forces in Iran’s Khuzestan

Three police officers were killed in a shooting on Thursday.

Iranian police. (AFP)

BEIRUT – Separatists in Iran’s restive Khuzestan have targeted security forces following the recent wave of protests to hit the oil-rich province populated by ethnic Arabs.


The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA) announced earlier in the week that anti-Tehran groups have “stepped up armed operations targeting the Iranian Revolutionary [Guards]” in the southwestern region of Iran.


ASMLA claims that the “Ahvazi national resistance” has conducted seven attacks against Iranian security forces since March 19, with the most recent operation on Thursday leaving three police officers dead.


“Heroes of the Ahvazi national resistance carried out a commando attack on Thursday morning at 3:00 am on a police checkpoint in the city of Hamidiyeh,” according to a report released by ASMLA.


The report said that a corporal and two others were killed in the assault, while two others were injured.


“The fighters confiscated the occupation soldiers' weapons and ammunition and moved to an unknown location.”


Iranian press outlets confirmed the attack, but did not report that it was conducted by Arab separatists, saying instead than an investigation has been launched to identify and arrest the perpetrators.


The other six recent operations touted by ASMLA, which purportedly included shooting attacks on police headquarters in the region and a fatal ambush on Basij paramilitary troops in Hamidiyeh, were not reported by Iranian press outlets.


An activist told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television that the series of attacks “could lead to the militarization of the political situation in Ahvaz.”


In mid-March, ASMLA’s leader threatened that his group’s armed wing, the Moheiddin Al Nasser Martyr Brigades, was prepared to deal “painful blows” to security forces if they continued to suppress demonstrations in the region.


“Over the coming days Ahvaz will see violent events between the occupier and the Ahvazi [Arabs],” Habib Jaber al-Ahvazi vowed amid the mounting protests in the province’s Arab-populated towns.


Unrest has been boiling over in Khuzestan after Younes Asakereh, a street vendor in Khoramshahr, immolated himself on March 13 to protest the confiscation of his sales stand. 


Days afterward, Iranian authorities arrested local residents supporting a visiting Saudi football club playing against the local football club in the provincial capital Ahvaz.


The arrests sparked a melee as a number of the local fans, who had reportedly burned posters of former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, clashed with security forces and set alight one of their vehicles.


Further protests ensued on March 24 when demonstrators held a funeral procession for Asakereh in Ahvaz and chanted against the regime, while two other demonstrations erupted in the towns of Shush and Khafajiyya the following week.


Al-Arabiya on March 31 cited human rights groups active in the southwestern Iranian province as saying that authorities fear the protests might spread across the region, which hosts a substantial population of ethnic Arabs.


Khuzestan has long been the scene of unrest against the ruling authorities, including the Pahlavi royal dynasty, which put down a revolt in the region in 1924. In the ensuing decades violence sporadically broke out in the Arab-populated regions of the province, most notably in 1979 when more than 100 residents died in an uprising following the Iranian revolution.


In mid-April 2005, Ahvaz was hit by four days of protests that opposition activists said left at least 50 dead.  Six years later, protests held on the anniversary of the 2005 events turned deadly as well, with over a dozen people dying.


ASMLA, which was founded in 1999, has conducted a number of attacks in Khuzestan, including two bombing in Ahvaz in 2006.

An Arab separatist group in Khuzestan said militants have been targeting Iranian security forces. (AFP)

Heroes of the Ahvazi national resistance carried out a commando attack on Thursday morning at 3:00 am on a police checkpoint in the city of Hamidiyeh.