Iran has responded to the killing of 14 of its border guards by hanging 16 prisoners who were apparently involved in drug trafficking along the Pakistan-Iran corridor.

Iranian media reports say the troops were killed in a fierce cross-border attack on Friday near the city of Saravan in the rugged Sistan-Baluchistan province on the border with Pakistan.

The strike highlights Iran’s sustained combat with militants and drug-smugglers along a corridor that is used to channel narcotics sourced from Afghanistan into Europe. Nearly 4,000 Iranian border guards have died over the past three decades in attempts to counter the menace.

Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA, reported that bandits or rebels were responsible for the attack. But the Fars News agency pinned the blame on the Jeish al-Adl group (The Army of Justice) — the self-proclaimed guardian of the Sunni community in the area.

The conflict between the security forces and the militant group has been escalating. Friday’s attack follows an October 14 strike on Iran’s Nodo border post with Pakistan, which killed 10 guards according to the group’s website.

In retaliation to the killings, Iranian authorities swiftly hanged 16 “terrorist elements” early on Saturday. Mohammad Marzieh, General Prosecutor of Zahedan city, the capital of the Sistan-Baluchistan province, told the Iranian Student News Agency the government had “already warned of serious response to any terrorist movement in the province”.

“For sure, last night’s terrorist attack in Saravan was carried out by those who serve the foreigners’ interests,” he said.

The repeated cross-border attacks seemed to have cast a shadow on Iran’s ties with Pakistan. Ali Abdollahi, Iran’s Deputy Interior Minister urged Islamabad to take further measures to effectively control its borders with Iran, IRNA reported.

The official pointed to a security pact between Iran and Pakistan meant to stop cross-border movement of subversives.

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