TEHRAN -- Four Iranian border guards kidnapped two months ago by Sunni Muslim militants along the nation’s southeastern frontier with Pakistan have been released in Pakistan, Iranian news agencies reported Friday.
A fifth kidnapped border guard was reported executed last month by his captors. His body has been handed over to Iranian authorities, according to media accounts.
The case sparked outrage in Iran and inflamed tension between Iran and Pakistan, where the abducted guards were apparently held.
Iranian officials accused Pakistan of lax security along the two nations’ notoriously lawless frontier, long a hub for arms smugglers and drug traffickers. Tehran had suggested that it might send forces into Pakistan to free the captive guards.
A massive social media campaign was launched in Iran on behalf of the five abductees.
A Sunni Muslim militant faction, Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) said it was responsible for the abductions and the execution of one of the guards.
The group has been active in the borderlands between predominantly Shiite Iran and Pakistan, home to a Sunni majority and Shiite minority. Iran calls Jaish al-Adl a terrorist organization and says it operates from sanctuaries in Pakistan’s Baluchistan region.
Last October, the same group claimed responsibility for the killings of 14 Iranian border guards.
The kidnappers had demanded the release of Sunni prisoners in Iran and Syria in exchange for the abducted guards’ freedom. There was no official word Friday on any prisoners being freed.
The four kidnapped guards were handed over to Iranian representatives in Pakistan but had not yet returned to Iran, Iran’s official Press TV reported.
Mostaghim is a special correspondent. Staff writer McDonnell reported from Beirut.