Ahwaz City witnessed multiple bomb attacks this morning, just two months after the Iranian government launched a bloody crack-down on Ahwazi Arab protestors in Iran's Khuzestan province.
At least eight people were killed and dozens injured after massive bombs exploded in carefully targetted areas of Ahvaz City, Khuzestan's provincial capital: opposite the governor general's office, in front of the province's housing and urban development department and outside the house of the provincial chief of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
The attacks were co-ordinated to go off at around 6.00am GMT. No group has claimed responsibility. Ali Aqamohammadi, the official spokesman for Iran's Spreme Council on National Security and Khuzestan's Governor, blamed the attacks on the separatist Ahwazi Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front (ADPF). The ADPF, which claimed it was involved in the April demonstrations, denies any involvement. Its London-based spokesman Mahmoud Ahmad told Al-Jazeera TV: "We have no idea who has done this." The group is not known to be heavily armed and has not previously used explosives.
The armed opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), also known as the MKO and the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), has also denied responsibility for the attacks, which were followed by a bomb blast in Tehran. Most of the MEK's combatants are being held in US custody at Camp Ashraf, the group's former headquarters in Iraq. The government's Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) has put the blame on the Brigades of Revolutionary Martyrs of Al-Ahwaz, an unknown "terrorist" group. There are suspicions that the bombs were planted by hard-liners within the regime itself to stir up religious extremism within the population and influence the results of the election.
The April riots were sparked by the publication of a letter written by the then Vice-President Ali Abtahi which outlined plans to reduce the number of Arabs in Khuzestan from three-quarters to around a third of the total population, while eliminating Arab cultural heritage and placenames in the province. The letter can be downloaded here.
Before the bomb attacks, local Ahwazi Arab leaders urged the government to give Khuzestan's largest ethnic group a fair share of the province's oil wealth and the right to political representation. In May, Jasem Shadidzadeh Al-Tamimi, a former member of parliament and the Secretary General of the Islamic Wefagh Party, a legal group representing Iranian Arabs, wrote an open letter to President Khatami. He asked him to "do your utmost in lowering the 'wall of mistrust' between the proud Iranian ethnicities, so that the 'infected wounds' of the Arab people of Ahwaz may heal." He stated that the government was denying Ahwazi Arabs peaceful, democratic means for protest.
Nasser Ban-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS), said: "I would not be surprised if an element of the Ahwazi Arab population decided to use violent means, but the attacks are not going to help the situation in Khuzestan. We fear that today's wave of attacks will invite retaliation on the Arab population of Khuzestan by the regime. Government forces have already killed 160 Arab civilians over the past two months and hundreds more are being detained, including intellectuals and tribal leaders. There is evidence of torture and the arbitrary use of state violence on innocent civilians.
"We are calling on Ahwazi Arabs to take up non-violent direct action against the regime and to boycott the forthcoming presidential elections. The call for civil disobedience is being broadcasted by the Al-Ahwaz TV station on the Assyrian satellite channel. We are also calling on Western governments, politicians and non-governmental organisations to highlight the plight of the Ahwazis and call for an end to their persecution and poverty."
Documents on Ahwazi Arabs in Khuzestan
Human Rights and the Ahwazi People
Ahwazis and the Legacy of War
Development and the Legacy of the Iran-Iraq War
The Economic Marginalisation of Ahwazis
Forced Migration and Land Confiscation in Khuzestan
Human Rights Watch Report on Khuzestan
Amnesty International Report on Khuzestan