Tehran, Jan 01 (Agencies): Iran hanged four men on Saturday, convicted of kidnapping and killing several people in the restive southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The men identified as Mahmoud Barahui, Shahram Narui, Zohoor Ahmad Asef-Doost and Jahanbakhsh Barahui, were executed in a prison in the provincial capital Zahedan.

"They took innocent people hostage, extorted money from their families and caused fear and insecurity by killing some of the hostages," said Sistan-Baluchestan justice chief Ebrahim Hamidi.
The official said the group had killed three kidnapped men and a policeman.

Sistan-Baluchestan lies on a major drug trafficking route from neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Several people, including Government officials, have reportedly been kidnapped by rebels and drug traffickers in recent years.

The province has also seen several deadly bombings over the past years blamed on the Sunni insurgent group the Jundallah.

The four were the first hangings reported in 2011.

Iran hanged at least 171 people in 2010, according to media reports. At least 270 people were executed in 2009.

Along with China, Saudi Arabia and the United States, Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions each year.

The Islamic republic says the death penalty is essential to maintain law and order and is applied only after exhaustive judicial proceedings.

Murder, rape, armed robbery, drug trafficking and adultery are other crimes punishable by death in Iran.