A night of violence flared across at least two Iranian cities as anti-government protests challenging the regime on an unprecedented level entered their third month.
At least five people were killed Wednesday in the southwestern Iranian city of Izeh, according Valiollah Hayati, the deputy governor of the wider Khuzestan. According to unconfirmed reports on state media, including Press TV, a 9 or 10-year-old boy was among those killed; his death has become the newest rallying cry for some protesters.
State media and local officials, including Hayati, said the people were shot dead by two “terrorists” riding motorcycles. Opposition activists, however, pointed the finger at pro-government forces.
The violence comes just over two months after Mahsa Amini, 22, died after being detained for allegedly failing to abide by the country’s strict dress codes.
Amini’s death sparked protests that morphed into wider anti-government demonstrations that have swept the country, arguably the biggest challenge to the theocratic Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.
The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported that protesters had gathered in different parts of Izeh, 280 miles south of the capital Tehran, and started chanting anti-government slogans.
According to IRNA’s government-sanctioned account, “terrorists misused that opportunity and conducted the terror attack.”
Independent reporting in Iran is difficult and NBC News was not able to investigate or confirm any of the allegations or accounts in this story.
In a separate attack, gunmen shot dead two members of Iran’s paramilitary Basij in the central city of Isfahan, according to the IRNA news agency. In both attacks, the gunmen were riding motorcycles, The Associated Press reported.
Prominent Iranian opposition activists posting on social media from outside the country presented a different picture to the one in the official media.
Tehran-born British actor and human rights advocate Nazanin Boniadi was among several prominent social media users to name the boy killed, saying that “with a single bullet the Islamic Republic killed him and his dreams.” And Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad tweeted that the boy was killed by “security forces.”
The violence came during a three-day general strike to mark the anniversary of another round of protests in 2019 in which hundreds of demonstrators were killed.
Over the past few months, despite a violent crackdown with police using tear gas, pellets and bullets against protesters, there has been no let-up in the women-led protests that have included strike actions at factories.
Iranian officials have blamed the unrest on hostile foreign actors without providing evidence. The protesters say they are fed up after decades of repression by a clerical establishment that they view as corrupt and authoritarian.
According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights group, at least 342 people, including 43 children and 26 women, have been killed during the protests so far. Other human rights groups have come to a similar toll, while saying it’s probably an underestimate.
Sean Nevin and The Associated Press contributed.