A recent attack in Sistan and Baluchestan province in southeast Iran that targeted a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is being viewed as part of a growing pattern of attacks against officials and senior commanders of the IRGC, underscoring the public's growing discontent with the regime policies.
On April 23, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a vehicle carrying an IRGC general, killing his bodyguard in the ensuing gun battle.
Brig. Gen. Hossein Almasi, commander of the IRGC's Salman Farsi brigade in Sistan and Balouchestan province, was the target of the attack. IRGC-affiliated media outlets said Almasi survived the attack with no injuries.
Almasi's slain bodyguard was Mahmoud Absalan, the son of Gen. Parviz Absalan, deputy commander of the IRGC's Salman Farsi Brigade.
Videos posted on the province's watchdog "Rasad Baloch" Telegram channel showed what appeared to be Mahmoud Absalan's body being released from the hospital.
State media announced that the unidentified attackers were detained but did not elaborate further.
IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani established the Salman Farsi Brigade at the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. The brigade has since been active in Sistan and Baluchestan, Kerman and Hormozgan provinces.
Soleimani was killed in January 2020 in Baghdad.
The recent attack was carried out on the sidelines of the events held ahead of May 5, the anniversary of the IRGC's establishment in 1979.
History of conflict in Sistan and Baluchestan
The predominantly Sunni Sistan and Baluchestan province has long been plagued by unrest.
The southeastern province bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan is often the scene of attacks or clashes between security forces and armed groups.
Drug traffickers and drug smuggling groups, most of whom are armed, are active primarily in Sistan and Baluchestan, and often clash with IRGC forces on the border and in the province, particularly in the capital Zahedan.
Attacks on IRGC elements and officials are not infrequent, some of which are claimed by Baluch groups who complain of discrimination and marginalisation.
In January, three IRGC members were among nine people killed in clashes in the region.
A month earlier, security forces killed a gunman who attacked the IRGC's rural intelligence office.
And in November, the IRNA news agency said three members of security forces were killed in clashes at the border.
At least 27 members of the IRGC were killed in the bombing of a bus carrying paramilitary forces in Sistan and Baluchestan in February 2019. State media said the Sunni Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) militant group took responsibility,
Almost 65% of Sistan and Baluchestan's population is Baluch, the majority of whom are Sunni. The Baluch are often neglected, as they are an ethnic minority, observers say.
Iran's Sunni population also often complains of discrimination, a charge denied by the regime.
Government neglect in Sistan and Baluchestan has caused severe drought, dangerous levels of air pollution, a shortage of potable water and lengthy blackouts.
This has added to the grievances of the Baluch population, which is already suffering from unemployment and lack of resources.
Regime officials, who constantly refer to Sunni Muslims as equals, have in fact long neglected Sunni-majority provinces.
Sistan and Baluchestan witnessed unrest in February 2021 after security forces and members of the IRGC shot and killed a number of fuel carriers near the town of Saravan on the Iran-Pakistan border.
The attack triggered a violent uprising during which the regime blocked the internet in the area to prevent further unrest.
The lack of employment opportunities in Sistan and Baluchestan has left its ethnic Baluch population few alternatives to black market trading with fellow Baluch across the border, Human Rights Watch said in February 2021.