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Iranian Police Arrest Militants in Beatings

June 15, 2003|From Associated Press

TEHRAN — Police on Saturday arrested dozens of militants who smashed their way into university dormitories and beat up sleeping students in a wave of violence aimed at putting down protests against Iran's Islamic government.

The arrests appeared to be an attempt by Iran's ruling hard-line clerics to rein in their militant supporters, reflecting fears that the violence might only stoke the past week's anti-government demonstrations, which were the largest in months.

Iran is worried about alienating a restive public at a time when the U.S. has stepped up pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program and alleged links to Al Qaeda terrorists.

In Washington, the White House called on Iran to "protect the human rights of the students."

"The United States views with great concern the use of violence against Iranian students peacefully expressing their political views," Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said. "Iranians, like all people, have a right to determine their own destiny, and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom."

The militants, who pledge allegiance to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, usually act with impunity, breaking up demonstrations and punishing protesters.

The past week, they took such action against young Iranians who had been holding nightly protests since Tuesday, chanting anti-government slogans, including unprecedented calls for Khamenei's death.

Friday night saw the most intense violence of the week, even though there was no anti-government protest. Militants went on a rampage across the city, beating pedestrians with clubs, brandishing knives, firing machine guns in the air and hurling rocks at homes. Dozens of militants stormed at least two university dormitories, beating up students in their beds and taking several of them away.

"We were sleeping in our beds. Suddenly we heard windows being smashed," said Mojtaba Najafi, a student who was in the Hemmat dormitory of Allameh Tabatabai University when the attacks began.

"It was the most brutal way of attacking a human being. They beat up the guard before entering our dormitory. They see no borders, no limits."

About 200 students were sleeping in their rooms, Najafi said. More than 50 students were injured and taken to the hospital, and about two dozen had disappeared after the attack.

There were also attacks at Tehran University's Chamran dormitory before dawn Saturday, other students said.

What followed was a rare crackdown on the militants. After increasing calls by reformers for action, the judiciary, which is controlled by hard-line clerics, ordered the arrests.

In 1999, Iran saw massive street protests sparked by a similar attack on a Tehran University dorm that led to the death of at least one student.

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