Security forces have arrested one of the men suspected of kidnapping dozens of girls and young women in the city of Iranshahr, southeast Iran, the local prosecutor has announced.
Iranshahr, a city of 150,000 located in the mainly Baluchi Sunni province of Sistan and Baluchestan, has experienced a spate of kidnappings in recent weeks. Residents learned about the abductions from the city’s Friday prayer leader, Sunni cleric Molawi Tayyib MullaZahei, who spoke about the unprecedented series of kidnappings in his June 15 sermon.
MullaZahei said the families of the girls had personally informed him about the kidnappings, and urged the city’s Governor, who was in attendance at the prayer meeting celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, to find those responsible.
Following MullaZahei’s sermon, hundreds of angry residents assembled in front of the governor’s office two days later to demand authorities find the culprits and bring them to justice.
The same day, state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) cited Iranshahr’s Revolution and Public Prosecutor Mohammad Khani as saying, “One of the elements suspected of kidnapping girls in Iranshahr has been arrested by the security forces,” adding, “The investigation about the motives behind the kidnappings and efforts to identify the remaining suspects are currently underway.”
MullaZahei said police told him the man in custody, who the cleric described as “wealthy and affluent,” had confessed to kidnapping and raping 41 girls and young women. He recounted the story of one young woman, who was reportedly kidnapped during Ramadan on her way home from work by an unknown number of people who took her away in a vehicle.
“The wolves (kidnappers) kept the girl as their captive until late evening,” MullahZahei disclosed, saying the girl’s father personally reported the incident to him.
Iranshahr’s Governor, Nabee Bakhsh Davoodee, issued a statement confirming the “principal suspect” in the recent “shameful” case had been identified and arrested within hours after the latest kidnapping was reported.
While promising to investigate the case thoroughly, Davoodee cautioned residents against “illegal and emotional” reactions.
In an interview with ILNA, the governor admitted the total number of victims in the case is still unknown.
Describing the case as “complicated,” Davoodi noted, “Proving a rape case requires lengthy specialized tests and investigation, and soon the outcome will be published.”
In the meantime, Iranshahr’s representative to parliament, Mohammad Na’eem Amini Fard, has said “four victims of the recent series of kidnappings and rapes have been medically tested and supported clinically.”