Number of Ahwaz Dead Rises
The Iranian security forces are carrying out house-to-house operations, arresting at least 1,300 Ahwazi Arab community, tribal and religious leaders and members of their families. The arrests are being conducted ahead of Ayatollah Khomenei's visit to the province on Thursday. Around 800 prisoners are being held in Karoon jail in Ahwaz City with the rest transferred to Esfahan province, following civil unrest in Khuzestan province at the weekend.
The death toll from the crack-down on Ahwazis has risen to 48 confirmed deaths, including women and children. Some reports are claiming more than 60 deaths.
The methods used by Iranian forces attracted criticism from within the establishment. Some 158 lawmakers have signed a petition to President Mohammad Khatami about the unrest, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA). Their letter called on the government to quickly release any innocent detainees, urged restraint by security forces and compensation for any private property damage. But their calls appear to have been ignored, as the repression intensifies.
In what appears to be retaliatory attacks by Ahwazi militants, oil installations have been sabotaged, although the extent of the damage is not known.
According to unconfirmed reports, a motorcade carrying Iran's Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani and other senior officials visiting Khuzestan on a fact-finding mission was allegedly attacked by armed men and forced to leave the area. A train carrying arms on the Tehran-Mohammara (Khoramshahr) line is also reported to have been destroyed by Ahwazi militants.
The group behind the attacks is not known, although it appears to be in contact with the London-based Al-Ahwaz Arab People Democratic Popular Front (ADPF), a leftist Ahwazi separatist group. The ADPF has not claimed responsibility, but refers to the militants as "brave challengers". It also claims that three members of its organisation have been killed.