(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dozens of people were injured and arrested when Iranian police and special forces stormed a Muslim Sufi lodge in southwestern Iran after a clash between Sufis and members of a nearby Shi'ite mosque, authorities and witnesses said Sunday.
Paramilitary forces attached to the Islamic Republic's elite Revolutionary Guard exchanged gunfire with Sufis as they backed police efforts Saturday to take over the Sufi lodge, where the group holds ceremonies in the town of Boroujerd, witnesses said.
"Some 80 people were injured and a part of the Sufis' temple was destroyed during the clashes," Mohammad Ali Tohidi, the town governor, told The Associated Press on the telephone from Boroujerd. He said 180 Sufi members were arrested.
Iranian state radio briefly mentioned the news on Sunday, saying "clashes between people and Sufis ended in Boroujerd after police intervention."
A student who said he witnessed the clash said Iranian special forces were involved in the fighting along with police and the paramilitary unit, known as the Basij.
The student, who is not a Sufi but spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said he saw shooting by both sides during the clash. He said forces seized the temple after setting fire to Sufis' belongings.
Authorities did not comment on how many civilians, police and military were among the injured. Calls to local hospitals were unanswered.
The Associated Press could not reach any Sufis in the town.
Local journalist Morteza Bourbour said the violence began Saturday morning when Sufis attacked a nearby mosque, injuring several Shi'ite Muslim clerics who had previously urged their followers to shut down the Sufi temple because it was "illegitimate."
"Some 50 Basijs were injured when they and police tried to enter the Khaneqah (Sufi lodge) on Saturday," Bourbour told AP. "Sufis resisted and pelted Basij members with bricks and stones."
The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that six Basijs were injured during the clashes in Boroujerd, a town of 230,000 that lies some 500 kilometers southwest of the capital, Teheran.
The agency quoted Hossein Saberi, governor general of Lorestan province, where the town is located, as saying that the Sufi lodge and the mosque were in the same neighborhood, and that police had been ordered to take control in case of any clash.
The independent news web site Advarnews said some 100 Sufis were injured and another 500 arrested "after an unidentified group captured the lodge, setting fire to it and flattening it by bulldozer."
Discrepancies between the various reports could not immediately be verified.
Sufi orders form a mystical branch of Islam that emphasizes direct mystical experience over mainstream religious practice.
Although Sufis have often been influential in various Muslim countries over the centuries, they have at times been persecuted by both the Sunni and Shi'ite religious establishments.
Iran's Islamic government does not welcome religious sects and cults in general. However, major religions are recognized officially and their followers have representatives in parliament.
Although part of Islam, Sufis have had increasingly uneasy relations with Iran's clerical regime in recent years and months. Last year, for example, authorities closed down a Sufi lodge in the holy city of Qom.
Iranian Sufis mainly belong to an order known as the Nematollahi-Gonabadi.
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