Iran commander admits to shooting at 2009 protesters

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In a rare admission and contradicting his own previous statements, the former commander of a Basij base in Tehran admitted to shooting at protesters during the June 16, 2009 protests in which seven people were killed.

While the commander in the interview with the official Basij Press was not named, he said that his forces only shot at the legs of protesters in order to prevent them from entering the base, a situation so severe, he said, that it would have turned Iran into Syria had the protesters been successful in taking the guns from the base. The site also published rare photos of what appear to be protesters outside Basij base 117 Nineveh.

The commander claimed that on that day, Green Movement protesters had gathered illegally in Azadi Square to protest the 2009 election results and that eventually, some moved in the direction of the Basij base and began throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the windows.

At this point, he said, he grabbed his loudspeaker and urged the protesters to keep their distance from the base, but immediately thereafter, shots were fired from the direction of the protesters by individuals who had positioned themselves among the protesters.

Once the protesters breached the walls of the base, according to the commander, “That’s when we were forced to defend ourselves, and some individuals who had entered the yard of the base were targeted from the waist below, which caused the crowd to disperse.”

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After some of the protesters were arrested and interrogated, some confessed to wanting to take over the base, according to the commander. He added that the fact that the electrical and water lines and even the backup generator were damaged in the protest proves that the attack was coordinated with specific goals.

The commander said that if the protesters had been successful in overtaking the base, the 2009 protests could have turned into an urban war, adding, “I really believe that if the base had fallen and arms had fallen into their hands, the situation would have become like Syria.”

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He added that that the seven people killed that day were killed by the “seditionists” and protesters who provoked people to attack the base. He said that most of the shots they fired went into the air as warning shots and that arms were given only to a few capable individuals. He stressed that the only individuals targeted were those who did not heed warnings about entering the base.

BBC Persian found a June 2010 Javan interview of the same commander, who then denied shooting at protesters. “Shooting in the direction of people and killing those in the crowd is a lie,” the commander said. “You can be certain that if we shot in the direction of the people — not seven people, but with that large wave of crowd — tens of people would have been killed.”