October 4, 2022 | Flash Brief

Death Toll in Iran Protests Rises to 154 as Khamenei Blames U.S. for Uprising

October 4, 2022 | Flash Brief

Death Toll in Iran Protests Rises to 154 as Khamenei Blames U.S. for Uprising

Latest Developments

Iran’s security forces have killed at least 154 protesters since nation-wide demonstrations began in mid-September. On Monday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, expressed full support for the security forces and blamed the United States and Israel for the unrest: “I say frankly that these incidents were designed by America, the fake Zionist regime, those who are on their payroll and some traitorous Iranians abroad who helped them.” President Joe Biden also issued a statement on Monday, warning, “the United States will be imposing further costs on the perpetrators of violence against peaceful protesters.” However, his administration remains publicly committed to the potential lifting of sanctions on those perpetrators via a new nuclear agreement — a policy contradiction the White House must address.

Expert Analysis

“The growing death toll in Iran’s protests reflects the regime’s contempt for basic democratic norms. It also suggests that Tehran is desperate. Iran’s leaders understand that the demonstrations pose a threat to the survival of the regime, and they are doing everything they can to stop them in their tracks.” Tzvi Kahn, FDD Research Fellow and Senior Editor

“The White House faces an internal strategic contradiction: How can you claim to be holding the regime accountable for internal repression while offering that same regime sanctions relief in Vienna?” – Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Protests Across Iran Continue

Protests continue with no end in sight, showing the depth of popular opposition to Iran’s clerical regime, which sparked the demonstrations when it killed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating Tehran’s headscarf laws. Over the weekend, students protested at more than 100 universities, in some cases leading to a violent response. “They had guns, they had paintball guns, they had batons,” one witness at Tehran’s Sharif University told CNN, referring to Iranian security forces. “They were using gases… [that are] banned internationally… it was a war zone… there was blood everywhere.”

Massacre in Zahedan

On Friday, Iranian security forces killed at least 63 protesters in the southeastern city of Zahedan, according to the Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights (IHR). Military helicopters reportedly attempted to disperse demonstrators by firing at them from the air. Habibollah Sarbazi Baluch, an opposition political activist, said on Twitter that “hospitals have no empty beds” as a result of the large number of wounded.

Khamenei’s Conspiracy Theories

Khamenei’s attribution of the protests to American and Israeli predations marks only his latest conspiracy theory. For example, in 2014, he said that America created the Islamic State and al-Qaeda in order to sow division among Muslims. In 2015, he contended that Washington was behind the Islamic State’s terrorist attack in Paris that killed 129 people. In the same year, he claimed — citing a statement by the Islamic Republic’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — that America “was behind all problems” and lies at “the root of all evil things.” In 2020, Khamenei suggested that America created the coronavirus in a deliberate effort to target Iranians.

These conspiracy theories are not just a political tool — rather, they reflect Khamenei’s deeply felt conviction that waging war against the United States, as he asserted in 2015, “is among our fundamental duties. It is one of the principles of the Revolution. If fighting against arrogance does not take place, it means that we are not followers of the Holy Quran at all.”

Related Analysis

Pandemic Exposes the Paranoid Style of Iran’s Supreme Leader,” by Tzvi Kahn

Biden’s Iran Policy After the Protests,” by Behnam Ben Taleblu and Saeed Ghasseminejad


Iran Iran Human Rights Iran Politics and Economy