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2 police officers gunned down in Iran’s protest-hit southeast  

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TEHRAN — The Iranian police announced on Tuesday the deaths of two officers in the country’s volatile and protest-hit Sistan-Baluchistan province.

The pre-dawn ambush targeted a police patrol near the town of Bampour, according to the provincial police commander, Mohammad Qanbari, who was interviewed by Tasnim news agency.

The report identified those shot as Maj. Mokhtar Momeni and Lt. Abouzar Omidvar and blamed the attack on “armed thugs” who injured two other officers in the shootout.

The police commander promised, “The perpetrators will be arrested in no time to face the maximum punishment.”

Impoverished Sistan-Baluchistan, populated by the ethnic Balouch minority and followers of Sunni Islam, shares a long and porous border with neighboring Pakistan, and has for decades been Iran’s most restive province. In the past four months, the area has seen a particular uptick in apparently retaliatory attacks targeting security forces, who have been heavily engaged in choking the unrest sparked by the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in mid-September.

Most notably, on Sept. 30, Iranian police and forces affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened fire on unarmed protesters in the provincial capital, Zahedan, killing nearly 100 people. In what has been lamented as Bloody Friday, the violence marked the worst of the ongoing state crackdown. Among those killed in Zahedan were children, elderly and disabled residents, according to rights advocacy organizations including Amnesty International.

Calls for justice have gone unheeded despite protests relentlessly held each Friday following Sunni prayers in the city. Only last week, it witnessed one of the most crowded of such rallies, with protesters chanting against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the IRGC, which they described a terrorist group.

The area’s most prominent Sunni cleric, Mowlavi Abdul-Hamid, has been ferociously attacking the ruling establishment in diatribes as recently as last Friday, when he highlighted the government’s refusal to meet “public demands for freedom, equality and justice.” In the same sermons, Abdul-Hamid noted that young Iranians should no longer be ruled by officials in their 80s and 90s, an audacious reference to the 83-year Khamenei and several other aging clerics in the top echelons of power.

The criticism has brought the cleric concerted attacks from the state media. 

Back in November, an anti-government hacktivist group known as Black Reward released what it said was an internal document after a cyberattack on the IRGC-linked Fars News. At some point in the classified report, Khamenei appeared to have advised authorities to “defame” the Sunni cleric over his critical stances.

Earlier on Saturday, the ultraconservative Kayhan daily, which is run by Khamenei’s office, described Abdul-Hamid’s speeches as “shameless” and “seditionist,” accusing him of aligning his position with Western and Israeli intelligence services.

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