Iranian security forces may have killed more than 1,000 people since protests over gasoline price hikes began in mid-November, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said on Thursday, warning that the figures were not definitive because Tehran blocked information.
“As the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began,” Hook told reporters at a briefing at the State Department.
Among those were at least a dozen children, Hook said, adding that “many thousands of Iranians” had also been wounded and thousands detained in Iran’s prisons.
In one incident in southwest Iran, Hook said the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 people with machine-gun fire. He said the US had received and reviewed video of that incident in the city of Noshahr.
That video was one of tens of thousands of submissions the US has gotten since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed last month for Iranians to submit evidence of atrocities by the authorities in putting down the protests, Hook said. In it, he said IRGC forces can be seen opening fire on protesters blocking a road and then surrounding those who fled to nearby marshlands where they were sprayed with bullets.
“In this one incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” Hook said. He did not display the video but said the actions it depicted corresponded to accounts of a brutal nationwide crackdown on the demonstrations.
The unrest, which began on November 15 after the Iranian government abruptly raised fuel prices by as much as 300%, spread to more than 100 cities and towns and turned political as young and working-class protesters demanded clerical leaders step down.
Hook's numbers appear to match a figure put out late Wednesday by the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
The MeK alleged late Wednesday that more than 1,000 people had been killed. It published a list of 320 people it said it had identified so far as having been killed but did not provide proof.
Tehran has given no official death toll but Amnesty International said on Monday it had documented the deaths of at least 208 protesters, making the disturbances the bloodiest since the 1979 revolution.
Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to its opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes - the United States and Israel - for the unrest.
In addition to the deaths, Hook said more than 7,000 protesters had been detained, with many sent to two prisons.
Hook said that Pompeo had notified Congress on Thursday that both prisons would be hit with US sanctions for gross human rights abuses. It was not immediately clear when those designations would occur.
The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since last year, when US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have further crippled Iran’s oil-based economy.
Trump, receiving UN diplomats at the White House on Thursday, called the crackdown on Iranian protesters "brutal" and a "horrible situation" as he vowed to respond "strongly" to any threat from Iran against US interests.
In his briefing, Hook said a US Navy warship seizing advanced missile parts believed to be linked to Iran from a boat it stopped in the Arabian Sea on November 25 was likely further proof of Tehran’s efforts to inflame conflict in the region.
“We interdicted a significant hoard of weapons and missile parts evidently of Iranian origin. The seizure includes sophisticated weapons,” he said, adding that the vessel was reportedly heading to Yemen to deliver the weapons.
“The weapon components comprise the most sophisticated weapons seized by the US Navy to date during the Yemen conflict,” Hook said.
In recent years, US warships have intercepted and seized Iranian arms likely bound for Iran-aligned Houthi militias.
Under a United Nations resolution, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the Security Council. A separate UN resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthis.