TEHRAN - Four Iranian soldiers abducted by Sunni extremists have returned home after being held for two months in neighbouring Pakistan, state media on Sunday cited the intelligence ministry as saying.

The ministry did not address the fate of Jamshid Danayifar, a fifth soldier abducted alongside his fellow border guards on February 6. The Jaish-ul Adl (‘Army of Justice’, in Arabic) rebel group, which says it is fighting for the rights of Shiite-majority Iran's Sunni Muslim population, said Danayifar was executed in late March. ‘Four of the abducted border guards returned to the Islamic homeland,’ the ministry said in a statement carried by state broadcaster IRIB's website. Reports on Friday said the four, along with Danayifar's body, had been handed over to Iranian officials inside Pakistan after being released.

No details were immediately available on where the soldiers had been held while prisoner, or how Iran secured their freedom. The five were abducted in the restive southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, while serving their 24-month mandatory military service near the border with Pakistan.

The news that Danayifar had been ‘executed’ drew international condemnation, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon calling it an ‘appalling act’. A US State Department spokesman called for the ‘swift release’ of the Iranian conscripts. Jaish-ul Adl had warned of further killings if Tehran refused to ‘release Sunni prisoners’. In November, the group claimed responsibility for killing a local prosecutor, a month after it killed 14 Iranian border guards in an ambush. Iran's border guards chief Hossein Zolfaghari said there was ‘negligence’ in the lead-up to the kidnapping, and that those responsible have been suspended with some facing prosecution.