CAIRO (AP) — Iranian security forces killed two men and arrested two others allegedly behind a deadly shooting last month in a southwestern city, state-run media reported, amid conflicting accounts of the incident that coincided with a wave of anti-government protests.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency said the two suspects killed were behind last month’s shooting that left dead seven people at a bazaar in the small, working-class city of Izeh in Khuzestan province. The country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Intelligence Ministry also arrested two other suspects in the same operation.
The Guard did not release any details about when the raid took place or how the suspects were killed. Authorities offered no evidence to support the four suspects’ alleged involvement. The government has labeled the attack an “act of terror,” but families and rights groups have cast doubt on that claim, accusing security forces of opening fire on civilians as protests convulsed the city.
The shooting in Izeh on Nov. 16 killed three children, including a 10-year-old boy and a woman, authorities reported at the time. A funeral for the boy, Kian Pirfalak, later prompted an outpouring of outrage as his mother delivered an emotional speech blaming plainclothes security forces for attacking their car as she begged them not to shoot, according to videos of the funeral service posted on social media.
IRNA news agency denied any security forces played a role in Pirfalak’s killing, instead claiming “terrorist agents with unknown incentives” unleashed automatic weapons fire on their car as demonstrations raged in the city.
Iran’s nationwide protests erupted in September after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini detained by the country’s morality police for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.
The protests have since transformed into calls for the overthrow of Iran’s ruling clerics, presenting one of the most durable challenges to the theocracy since the chaotic years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
At least 506 people have been killed and 18,000 arrested in the government’s crackdown, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that’s been monitoring the protests since they began.
Even public figures who have expressed solidarity with the movement, including Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the country’s most famous actresses, have been swept up in the dragnet. Iran’s main union for film industry workers, House of Cinema, reported on Tuesday that 13 actors are now in jail over the protests.
As Iran seeks to stamp out the demonstrations and ramp up pressure on critics, it has sentenced several protesters to death and already carried out two executions despite widespread international criticism.
On Wednesday, the judiciary announced that Mahan Sedrat, a 23-year-old sentenced to death over allegedly joining protests while wielding a knife, would be spared the death penalty and granted a retrial due to the emergence of new evidence.
In a message to mark the Persian holiday Yalda, the winter solstice that begins Wednesday night, State Department spokesman Ned Price offered condolences to grieving Iranians amid the government crackdown.
“Yalda should be a festive time for the Iranian people,” Price said. “Instead, tonight we mourn with the many families missing loved ones who have been detained or killed during the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors.”
The Biden administration also announced new sanctions Wednesday on Iran’s chief prosecutor, four other Iranian officials and a company that supports the country’s security forces for their roles in the suppression of protests.
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