WASHINGTON - A senior U.S. official said Thursday Iranian forces may have killed more than 1,000 people in three weeks of protests sparked by the government's sudden and dramatic increase in fuel prices.
"It appears the regime could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began," said State Department special representative for Iran, Brian Hook.
Hook said the State Department received 32,000 videos, including footage taken in southern Iran, where elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps allegedly pursued a group of protesters and opened fire, killing as many 100 people.
Hook said Iranian forces also wounded "many thousands" and arrested at least 7,000 others.
Hook acknowledges that the death toll figures were difficult to confirm, but declared, "We know for certain it is many, many hundreds."
The human rights group Amnesty International's Iran researcher, Mansoureh Mills, says she cannot comment on the 1,000 death toll and is, for now, sticking by Amnesty's latest estimate of 208.
"But we believe it will rise significantly as we are getting new reports of fatalities from Iran every day."
The country's clerical rulers say the high death tolls reported by foreign sources are "utter lies."
Protests in more than 100 Iranian towns and cities erupted last month after the government hiked fuel prices by as much as 300%.
The marchers are demanding that clerical leaders resign. The State Department's Hook calls the unrest "the worst political crisis the regime has faced" since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
U.S. President Donald Trump was asked by VOA about how he wants the international community to respond to Iran. "We're already dealing with the U.N. ... they're very much involved with respect to Iran and other things," he said.
Trump called on the media to "go in and see what's happening" in Iran. "They're killing a lot of people and they're arresting thousands of their own citizens in a brutal crackdown in recent weeks," Trump said.
Iranian rulers blame the unrest on "thugs" who are associated with its exiled opponents and its main enemies, namely the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia.
VOA Persian's Michael Lipin contributed to this report.