TEHRAN: Iranian soldiers captured by Jaishul Adl rebels near the Balochistan border in February have been freed, the militant group and an Iranian official announced Friday.
However, there was no indication of how many of the five border guards had been released after Jaishul Adl, which operates in southeastern Iran, claimed last month to have executed one of them.
“The soldiers were handed over some hours ago by the Jaishul Adl to Iranian representatives in Pakistan,” said the Fars news agency, quoting an unidentified security official.
For its part, Jaishul Adl announced the releases on its Twitter account.
“At the request of eminent Sunni clerics in Iran, the Iranian soldiers held hostage have been freed and handed over to a delegation of clerics,” it said.
The five soldiers, who were serving their 24-month mandatory military service, were abducted in the restive southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, where Iran has been confronting the Jaishul Adl rebels.
Last month the group announced it had executed one of the five, Jamshid Danayifar, and warned of more executions to come unless Iran freed Sunni prisoners.
The Iranian authorities immediately denied the execution claim, insisting that all five soldiers were alive.
The guards are believed to have been taken into Pakistan after being kidnapped on February 6.
In mid-February, Iran warned that it could consider sending troops across the border to free the soldiers, and denounced what it called Pakistan’s inability to secure its own borders.
Border guards chief Hossein Zolfaghari has admitted that there was “negligence” in the lead-up to the kidnapping, saying those responsible were suspended, with some facing prosecution.
Jaish-ul Adl took up arms in 2012 to fight for what it says are the rights of Iran’s minority Sunni population.
Sistan-Baluchestan, which is home to a large Sunni minority, has been the scene of unrest in recent years fuelled by its alleged marginalisation by the predominantly Shia republic.
Jaishul Adl, whose name in Arabic means “Army of Justice,” has claimed several attacks against Iranians in the region. These include the assassination of a local prosecutor and the killing of 14 border guards in an ambush in 2013.