On Monday, Iran’s Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said his forces have disbanded a terrorist group that planned attacks in Iran and possessed a large cache of weapons and ammunition. Speaking to reporters in Tehran after Eid prayers, Alavi added that the ministry carried out the operation on Friday as the Iranian government was commemorating the anti-Israel International Quds Day. He also claimed that measures taken by the Iran’s security agencies have significantly degraded terrorist groups’ ability to conduct attacks in the country. Over the weekend, the Intelligence Ministry also released a statement on the operation and added that the group was linked with the Islamic State. The statement pointed out that the group “planned terrorist attacks in strategic provinces and religious cities of the country.” The security forces reportedly also confiscated AK-47 assault rifles, suicide vests and bomb-making material during the operation.
Comment: Since the June 7 terrorist attacks in Tehran by the Islamic State, Iranian security agencies say they have stepped up counterterrorism operations across the country and dismantled several terrorist groups. But while authorities in Iran claim most of terrorists detained are affiliated with the Islamic State, it is difficult to independently verify the claims because authorities have not provided information about the identity of those in custody or killed. It is plausible that some have no links with the Islamic State but are members of local separatist groups. The fact that most of operations have taken place in provinces with sizable Sunni population – such as Sistan and Baluchestan, Kurdistan, and Kermanshah – however, indicates that Iran has a growing terrorist problem – regardless of these militants’ affiliations.
In the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan, Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a plurality of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings. The province also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Islamic State and other radical groups have gained a foothold in recent years.
Security in northwestern Kurdistan Province has also been tense lately. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), a separatist group fighting the Islamic Republic, announced earlier this year that it will continue armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, PDKI’s secretary general, added that their resistance was not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but it is a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” The group’s headquarters is located in the Iraqi Kurdistan.
As long as ethnic and religious minorities feel marginalized, the Islamic State and other regional terrorist groups will have an opportunity to recruit from disenfranchised Iranians. And Tehran’s strategy of fighting Iran’s enemies abroad to avoid security problems at home has already proven to be counterproductive.