Robbers have also reportedly attacked cars and trucks that look out-of-area, and those without license plates. (Supplied)

By Havari Yousefi

December 5, 2020

Truck drivers on Iran’s western and southwestern highways have sounded the alarm over a surge in gun violence and armed robberies in recent months. The slightest problem that forces a vehicle to stop, they say, can pitch them into a nightmare.

Local sources tell IranWire that in the past three months, cases of extortion and even murder on the highways have increased around the three cities of Ahvaz, Shoush, and Andimeshk. To make matters worse, drivers say, all this is happening in the face of stoic silence and disregard on the part of the police and the Revolutionary Guards. Drivers have been forced to co-ordinate their journeys together, and even to arm themselves.

News of the death of Ashkan Keshavarz, a truck driver from the city of Kamyaran, was published on November 29. Keshavarz had been killed on the road to Ahvaz by armed robbers. Widespread coverage of this news compounded the worries of drivers on this route and across Kurdistan province who were already shaken by a spate of violent incidents on the roads.

According to local sources, for about a year now, iron ore has been being extracted 24 hours a day from three mines – Hasan Selaran, Aliabad Chakhloo, and Yapeshkhan – close to the city of Saqqez in Kurdistan Province, under the direct supervision of the Revolutionary Guards. Dozens of trucks, mostly hailing from Divandarreh and Saqqez, are loaded up at these mines every day and transport the iron ore to refineries in Zarand county, Kerman province.

These drivers have a job to do regardless of the dangers. One driver from Divandarreh told IranWire that in the present climate, even a minor technical hitch on the road puts the whole team and operation at risk. “On one journey,” he said, “we were driving four trucks from Saqqez and Divandarreh to Kerman, and my tyre got a puncture. I called the drivers in front of and behind me, and told them to get there as soon as possible. Getting a puncture while going in that direction is a disaster; anything could happen. So they came and guarded me while I changed the tyre.”

Another driver told IranWire he had been the victim of an armed robbery on the road from Shoush to Andimeshk. “A Pride car blocked the front of the truck,” he said, “and four people got straight out. Two  of them were armed.

“One of the robbers put a knife to my neck and the other emptied my pockets. Another went to back of the truck and hauled out anything of value. I begged them, saying I was only a driver, that I had a wife and a child. They didn’t care. They took whatever there was; cell phones, cash, watches, even the audio player.”

Two other drivers, this source told IranWire, have been attacked by opportunist thugs on the same stretch of road while delivering white goods from Bandar Genaveh in Buhshehr province to Tehran. “The robbers blocked the path of their trucks,” he said, “and after taking the drivers’ cash and valuables, they tore down the trucks’ coverings and took away the refrigerators and air conditioners from inside.”

A driver from Saqqez driver also recounted his horrific personal experience on the same road just two months ago. Due to extreme fatigue from the long hours spent at the wheel, he had stopped to rest near the city of Shoush and was immediately attacked. “It was midnight,” he said. “The truck window was smashed. I woke up, and was frozen in shock; every hair on my body stood on end and I couldn’t speak. They opened the door and pulled me down. They took everything there was.”

The driver from Saqqez says that according to a colleague of his in Zarand, Kerman province, armed robbers have killed three or four drivers in the past three months. Two months ago, he said a driver from Mashhad was killed along with his son.

Robbers have also reportedly attacked cars and trucks that look out-of-area, and those without license plates. Last week, another truck driver told IranWire, “a young driver from Tehran made a short stop near Shoush to fill his tea flask. Two robbers hid themselves in the space between the truck cabin and the load, and the driver didn’t notice them as he got back in. After the truck pulled away, the two robbers punched on the cabin wall and asked him to stop. Apparently they cut the gas hose to bring it to a halt. After the truck stopped, he was badly beaten and the robbers took away what was in the truck.”

Drivers from Saqqez and Divandarreh say that after all these reported incidents, they have started co-ordinating with each other so that four or five trucks will be travelling close together on the route, and many drivers are now armed. “Along the way,” one said, “we keep an eye on each other in the wing mirrors. No one is left alone and we have regular phone calls with each other. When we’re not alone, the chance of an attack is very low. Most drivers also carry cattle prods, pepper spray and knives to defend themselves.”

Many drivers strongly criticized the negligence of the police and the Revolutionary Guards in the area. They said the silence of the Guards in response to reported incidents, and the total absence of any confrontation between the police and the armed robbers, is astonishing. These violent incidents are now becoming the norm because so many have gone unchecked.

“There is no way out,” one driver told IranWire, his voice trembling as he spoke. “We have to deal with these threats ourselves. Because with these dire economic conditions, there is no other way for us to make a living. The country has been destroyed, and now thieves are taking over. No one has the courage to take responsibility.”

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.