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News & Publications

May 15, 2020

19 Sailors Killed in Friendly Fire Incident


Week of May 11th, 2020 | Iran Unfiltered is a weekly digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council

19 Sailors Killed in Friendly Fire Incident

A friendly fire incident has led to the deaths of 19 Iranian sailors and wounded 15 more. The accident occurred on May 10th, after the Konarak vessel was hit by a cruise missile fired from the Jamaran frigate during a training exercise near the port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman.  

The Iranian Army’s Naval Force has confirmed the deaths and said an investigation has been launched. This is the second friendly fire incident in Iran in recent months, following the downing of Ukrainian civilian airliner in January by an air defense unit.

Iranian media have said the incident was due to a “miscalculation” during the training. The Konarak vessel held up to 40 people. It had one 20 mm canon and four cruise missile launchers. It was used for patrols in the Persian Gulf.

A report by the Iranian Army said the incident was “possibly” caused by a technical issue due to “electronic warfare by the enemy.” It did not identify the alleged enemy or provide evidence for the claim.

Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rouhani both called for an investigation. Khamenei said the “culprits must be identified” and that “prudent measures should be taken to prevent a recurrence of such damaging and bitter incidents.”

Rouhani said that the cause of the incident will become clear after an investigation and will be declared to the people. The commander of Iran’s army has said that four “specialist” teams from various branches of Iran’s Armed Forces groups will conduct the investigation.

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Zarif Says Iran Open to Prisoner Exchange

Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says Iran is open to a broad prisoner exchange with the United States. On May 11th, during a meeting with the parliament’s national security commission, Zarif stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to exchange all of the Iranian prisoners held in America or in other countries because of American pressure with all of the American prisoners held in Iran.”

Zarif said Iran had not received a response from the U.S. on the offer. He said this Iranian offer has been on table since September 2018, but “since that time the Americans have given us no response and still have given no response in this area.”

Zarif also told the parliamentarians that a prisoner exchange could occur without U.S.-Iran negotiations. He said it could be handled by Iran’s Interests Section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, DC.

On May 10th, Rouhani administration spokesperson Ali Rabiee had proclaimed that Iran was ready to exchange prisoners with the U.S. “without preconditions.” U.S. President Donald Trump then retweeted a Time Magazine story covering Rabiee’s remarks.

However, Rabiee then clarified that he was reiterating the longstanding offer made by Zarif. He also said that to exchange prisoners, there was no need for “negotiations or mediation” with the United States. 

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Joint Iran-Afghanistan Committee to Investigate Afghan Deaths

Iran and Afghanistan have created a joint committee to investigate incidents on their border. This comes after the bodies of 19 Afghans were discovered in the Hari river that forms part of the Iran-Afghanistan border.

The discovery of the bodies cast a shadow over the Iran-Afghanistan relationship. The mayor of Gulran, a city in Afghanistan’s Herat province, said the bodies had signs of having been “beaten” before being “thrown” in the river.

Some Afghan outlets reported the deceased Afghans were part of a group of roughly 50 who had been detained by Iranian border guards. After the bodies were discovered on May 8th, some Afghan social media accounts blamed Iranian border guards for killing the Afghans. Protestors then attacked several Iranian cargo trucks in Herat province and burned one.

BBC Persian interviewed an alleged witness of the incident. This individual stated that the Afghans were workers who were arrested by Iranian border guards while crossing the border at night. He said they were “forced to do hard work” then taken to a cliff overseeing the river and told to jump in the river while having bullets shot at their feet.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Abbas Mousavi has denied the Afghans died in Iranian territory. Mousavi said that an Iranian investigatory committee found that Iranian forces had no role in the incident.

Mousavi stated: “Based on confirmed reports from Iranian border guards, on this date and in this claimed area, not only did such an incident not take place but there were no encounters between Iranian border guards and Afghan citizens, much less the claim that some were transported to a camp or were treated in an inhumane way.”

Mousavi said that no Afghan citizens were registered as entering Iran during this period “given the weather conditions.” He also said that since the coronavirus outbreak, Iran has not set up camps on its border with Afghanistan. He said any reports that Afghans were being transported to camps and “forced to work” were “inaccurate’ and “lies.”

Mousavi also said the Afghan central government had no “effective control” over this area on the border. He stated that it had become a “safe haven” for “terrorist groups and smugglers.”

The commander of Iran’s border regiment with Afghanistan also denied an Iranian role in the deaths. He said that the direction the Hir River flows in makes it impossible for the bodies to have been discovered in Afghanistan. He said on the day of the alleged incident, “nothing special occurred at the border,” and that the Iranian border guards were surprised by the claim on Afghan social media.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif and his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar have agreed to jointly investigate the deaths. The joint committee will also be aimed at preventing similar incidents from arising in the future. The Afghan foreign ministry has said the first meeting has already occurred and that the “atmosphere was favorable.

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Covid-19 Cases Increasing in Parts of Iran

On May 13th, Iran’s Health Ministry announced that 50 people had died of Covid-19 in the preceding 24 hours. Another 1,958 new cases were identified.

Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour has said the total number of confirmed cases in Iran is at 112,725. The number of deaths is 6,783 and over 89,000 have recovered. Over 629,000 tests have been conducted.

Jahanpour says that while the situation in most of the country was remaining steady or declining, in southwestern Khuzestan province it is getting worse. Local officials there have said conditions were “worrying and a crisis.” They have stressed that the public must exercise social distancing and isolation.

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Protester Sentenced to Six Years Imprisonment

An appeals court has upheld the sentence of a political activist who was arrested in the gas price-hike protests last November. Revolutionary Court Branch 24 upheld a six-year sentence against Rezvaneh Ahmad Khan Beigi. The charges are “gathering and colluding with the intention of harming national security” and “engaging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Beigi has been arrested in the past because of her activism and reportedly suffers from epilepsy. She is being held in Tehran’s Evin prison. 

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Attack Kills Soldiers in Western Iran

Three Iranian soldiers were killed in an attack in Western Iran. In a statement, the IRGC said they were killed in an attack near the town of Divandareh in Kurdistan province. The statement blamed “anti-revolutionary forces” for the attack.

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