Militants step up antigovernment activities in Iran’s border regions

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Jan 12, 2018
Militants step up antigovernment activities in Iran’s border regions

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) said today that its forces have seized a shipment of explosives and suicide vests in the restive southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan. According to a statement released by the public relations department of the IRGC Ground Force’s Quds Base (not to be confused with IRGC’s elite Quds Force responsible for external operations), the explosives and communications and other assets were captured in the Saravan county of Sistan and Baluchestan. “This shipment which the terrorist group ‘Jond al-Shaitan’ was attempting to smuggle into the country to create security problems and riots and [conduct] terrorist activities] was seized by Islam’s warriors,” the statement added – referring to Jundullah militant group that operates in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan as well as in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province. “The brave combatants of IRGC Ground Forces and other security and law enforcement personnel, with intelligence superiority and all-encompassing preparation in border regions, will monitor and foil all plots by terrorist groups and the mercenaries of the Iranian nation’s enemies.”

Comment: Iran’s southeastern and northwestern regions – home to marginalized ethnic and religious minorities – have seen an uptick in violence by separatist and terrorist groups over the past year. Last November, the Iranian media reported that at least eight Iranian border guards were killed in clashes with an armed group in the northwestern province of West Azarbaijan. A week prior to that, the IRGC announced that its forces “dismantled a terrorist team” in the same area. According to a statement released by the public relations department of I.R.G.C.’s Hamze Sayyid al-Shohada Base, four “terrorists’ were killed in armed clashes between IRGC forces and the militants. The statement did not reveal the group’s identity, but alleged that it was “affiliated with the Global Arrogance” – a term Iranian officials often use for the United States and its allies. The statement also claimed that the group had infiltrated into West Azerbaijan and killed two residents. The I.R.G.C. forces seized weapons, communication equipment and ammunition from the terrorists, the statement added. Several other clashes between militant groups and security forces took place in August and September in West Azerbaijan.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry last year also revealed that the country’s security forces had disbanded nearly 100 “terrorist groups” across the country. “Highly serious measures have been taken in the Southern, Southeastern and Western parts of Iran and nearly 100 teams have been confronted," the deputy Iranian intelligence minister said.

While Iran has not suffered the level of violence and terrorism seen in some of its neighbors, the latest spate of clashes between armed groups and security forces and the June 7 Tehran attacks indicate that the Islamic State has infiltrated Iran and has managed to recruit among the country’s disenfranchised Sunni minority population.

But it is not just the Islamic State. Separatist groups have also intensified their armed campaign against the Islamic Republic. In the northwest, the PDKI has resumed armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, PDKI’s secretary general, said last January 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.” PDKI militants based in the Iraqi Kurdistan region have repeatedly crossed the border and clashed with the IRGC in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.

When the anti-regime protests broke out across Iran two weeks ago, four Iranian Kurdish political parties and militant groups  voiced support for the protests. The groups urged the international community to back the Iranian people’s “legitimate demands.”

Security situation in Iran’s southeast is also tense and volatile. With a sizable yet largely marginalized Sunni population, the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan can be a breeding ground for local militant and separatist movements as well regional and international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. 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. Sistan and Baluchestan also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Islamic State has gained a foothold recently.

It remains to be seen whether these militant attacks at a time that the country is encountering nationwide protests will force the IRGC to curtail its expanding regional role and focus on domestic unrest.

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