Reporting from Tehran
TEHRAN — Furious over the unexplained death of a chambermaid, ethnic Kurds in an Iranian provincial capital rioted on Thursday, apparently setting the fire that roared through the hotel where she had worked. Police officers used tear gas to disperse the crowds, according to news accounts, witnesses, and images posted on social media.
The anger, which appeared to have been smoldering for days in the city, Mahabad, spread over the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of the chambermaid, Farinaz Khosravani, 25, who on Monday plunged from a fourth-floor window of the city’s only four-star hotel, the Tara, Kurdish news media reported. Mahabad is the capital of West Azerbaijan Province, and its population is mostly Kurdish.
The protesters suspected foul play in Ms. Khosravani’s death, according to the Rudaw news website, based in the neighboring Kurdish region of Iraq.
Images were posted on Twitter of flames roaring throughout the hotel’s five floors. The presence of hundreds of men outside the hotel, some with raised fists, seemed to indicate that the fire had been set by protesters.
“It took some days for the news to spread,” said one Mahabad resident in a telephone interview; he declined to give his name for fear of retribution.
He said that many in the city of 280,000, had read news on the Internet saying that Ms. Khosravani had been trying to escape an Iranian official who was threatening to rape her. According to those reports, the official had the help of the hotel’s owner, who had been promised a fifth star for helping arrange the official’s stay there.
“The city is boiling with anger,” the resident said. “People are protesting, and some have attacked the hotel where she worked.”
Iran’s state news media did not immediately report on the rioting. The Kurdish-populated area of the country, which has occasionally been convulsed by unrest, is a politically delicate subject.
Kurdpress, an Iranian-Kurdish website that is not obstructed in Iran, quoted the governor of the Kurdistan province, Jafar Katani, saying on Wednesday that “no official was involved.”
In an interview with the site, the governor said someone had tried to rape Ms. Khosravani, and said that a man taken into custody had been helping the hotel raise its standards.
In 2005, the city was the scene of unrest that lasted for several days, after an episode involving the security forces and local Kurds. But in recent years, Kurdish areas of Iran have had an increase in business, mainly smuggling. As a result, ethnic tensions have mostly receded.