In an apparent attempt to dissuade potential Iranian protesters from taking to the streets, the Ministry of Intelligence claims it has dismantled "sabotage networks" allegedly planning to carry out attacks during Chaharshanbe Suri, the Persian festival of fire.
Ahead of Nowrouz, the Persian New Year, many Iranians celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri by setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires, defying a ban on the festivities imposed by the Islamic Republic.
This year’s celebrations started on March 14, amid more than five months of nationwide demonstrations demanding fundamental economic, social and political change. Hundreds of demonstrators have been killed and thousands detained in the security forces’ crackdown on the women-led protest movement.
Late on March 13, the Ministry of Intelligence announced the arrest of 21 individuals affiliated with an opposition group called Mujahedin-e Khalq (aka the People's Mojahedin Organization).
The group did not immediately comment on the allegations.
The ministry said that those arrested “have a record of presence in the street riots last fall” and were preparing to launch acts of vandalism and terrorism, including “setting fire to public property, especially buses at busy intersections, and destroying private property."
It said the authorities seized hundreds of hand grenades and wireless grenades in a western Iranian city, as well as equipment and materials to make those weapons.
"In addition to producing hand grenades, they produced and stockpiled a large number of Molotov cocktails and designed plans to create fake blockades, attack specific centers, and carry out sabotage," the ministry added.
Earlier, law enforcement and judicial authorities warned Iranians that anyone disturbing public order during Chaharshanbe Suri would be dealt with decisively.
The Iranian authorities have cracked down hard on the widespread protests triggered by the September 2022 death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in the custody of morality police.
Security forces killed more than 520 people and unlawfully detained over 20,000, activists say. Following biased trials, the judiciary has handed down stiff sentences, including the death penalty, to protesters.