The head of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards warned protesters that Saturday would be their last day of taking to the streets, in a sign that security forces may intensify their crackdown on unrest sweeping the country.
Iran has been gripped by protests since the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police last month, posing one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
“Do not come to the streets! Today is the last day of the riots,” Guards commander Hossein Salami said in some of the toughest language used in the crisis, which Iran’s clerical leadership blames on its foreign enemies including Israel and the United States.
“This sinister plan, is a plan hatched … in the White House and the Zionist regime,” Salami said.
The widely feared Revolutionary Guards, who report directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have not been deployed since demonstrations began on Sept. 16. They are an elite force with a track record of crushing dissent.
Rights groups have said at least 250 protesters have been killed and thousands arrested across Iran in the protests, which have turned into a popular revolt by furious Iranians from all layers of society.
On Friday, video footage on social media showed protesters calling for the death of Khamenei and the Basij militia, which has played a major role in efforts to defuse demonstrations.
The Intelligence Ministry and the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards have accused spy agencies from the United States, Britain, Israel and Saudi Arabia of having orchestrated the unrest to destabilize the Islamic Republic.
Salami, who was speaking at a funeral of victims killed in an attack this week claimed by Islamic State, reiterated that message in a direct address to the protesters.
“Don’t sell your honor to America and don’t slap the security forces who are defending you in the face,” he said.