Noose (illustration)
Noose (illustration)Reuters

Sixteen rebels have been hanged in Iran in retaliation for the deaths of at least 14 border guards in an ambush, the BBC reported on Saturday, citing Iranian news agencies.

The rebels were "linked to groups hostile to the regime", the attorney general of Sistan-Balochistan province was quoted as saying.

They were hanged in prison in Zahedan, north-east of Saravan, where the border deaths took place overnight. It is not clear what link, if any, those hanged had to the border attack.

One report suggested they may already have been tried and convicted, but their executions brought forward following the ambush.

Friday night's attack in a mountainous region outside Saravan, on the south-eastern border with Pakistan, was blamed by Saravan's member of parliament, Hedayatollah Mirmoradzehi, on "anti-revolution guerrillas."

But reports that a rebel group called Jaish al-Adl had claimed responsibility for the ambush were "not confirmed," Mirmoradzehi told the local Tasnim news agency.

An armed Sunni group, called Jundallah, has carried out a number of attacks against the state in recent years.

It was founded in 2002 to defend the Baloch minority in the poor, remote and lawless region of south-east Iran.

The Baloch in Iran, like their brethren across the border in Pakistan, see themselves, like the Kurds, as a nation without a state.

In predominantly Shiite Iran, the issue is complicated by the fact that they are Sunni Muslim. This has led them to claim sectarian persecution, and the Iranian authorities in turn accuse them of being in league with foreigners.

The Iranians claim that Jundallah is being supported by the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as well as by terrorist groups such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Iran regularly executes people who are convicted of murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking, adultery and espionage.

According to Amnesty International, at least 508 people may have been executed in Iran this year - a rate that has not slowed under the rule of Iran's new President and ostensible "moderate", Hassan Rouhani.

In 2011, Iran put to death more than twice as many people as it did the year before.