MIDDLE EAST

Syria pays for ISIS attack in Tehran

What happened was expected, but who would have imagined that the response would be as it came. Terrorist attacks targeted a main institution that is the Parliament Building; it is a symbolic building, the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini. As for the terrorists, they were Iranian citizens.

The reaction of a group of Syrians was: “We, the Syrians, have suffered a lot from terrorism, ISIS, al-Assad and the Iranian regime; we stand in solidarity with all the victimized peoples everywhere.”

Iran mixes between ISIS and the Gulf states. In fact, ISIS represents a more serious threat to the Arab countries than to Iran. Iran’s situation is better than that of Arab countries because extremist groups, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization and its militias in Iraq, or the Houthi groups in Yemen, are all pro-Iranian militias. 

Security taken by surprise 

The Iranian security was taken by surprise by what happened and stopped all the communication networks “because of terrorist activities.” This is the biggest terrorist operation in Iran in 10 years. The Iranians were confused because the reaction on the ground did not match with what local television stations reported, trying to ease the impact of the attacks.

In fact, a number of terrorists had made their way through many checkpoints, and according to a report, they dressed as women. It took several hours to control the situation and kill the terrorists.

The success of ISIS in carrying out a terrorist operation in Iran was expected due to already known reasons, but during the last couple of months, observers have seen a remarkable development and predicted the occurrence of a terrorist operation.

In late March, the organization broadcast a video in Persian, calling on the Sunni minority in Iran to rebel against the Shiite-dominated Iranian institutions. The Iranian Broadcasting Corporation described the video as nonsense and said that it was an attempt by ISIS to cover its increasing losses in Iraq. Iranian officials revealed last year that they had stopped several ISIS attacks. After the video, ISIS published 4 editions of its online publication ‘Rumiyah’ in Persian. It is published in English, French, Russian and Indonesian.

With the rise of ISIS, Iranian officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have warned that they will take “decisive actions” if ISIS militants came just 40 kilometers near Iran’s border.

The regime tends to use this terrorist attack to continue its support for the Assad regime and the Popular Mobilization in Iraq, under the pretext that it is better to fight ISIS outside Iran rather than inside one’s own country. However, ISIS was able to destabilize Iran.

Huda al Husseini



Charlie Winter, a senior researcher at the International Center for the Study of Political Extremism and Violence, says that ISIS used to publish the translation of selected articles and statements in Persian, but this was the first time that ‘Rumiyah’ was published in Persian. (Rumiyah is derived from the name of Rome, and the organization considers that when it occupies the Italian capital, then the whole world will be under ISIS control).

According to Winter, the organization has been publishing articles in Persian and translated videos since 2015. However, with the Persian edition of ‘Rumiyah’, “it seems that a logical progress has already taken place.”

Winter had co-authored a report published by the International Center for Counter-Terrorism, based in The Hague, in which seven Iranians committed suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria between December 2015 and November 2016.

In the first issue of ‘Rumiyah’ in Persian, ISIS called for killing of ‘infidels’, and to consider killing as halal and a form of prayer.

The cover of the second issue was a blood-stained knife, with tips on how to kill the infidels with a knife (we have seen this in the London Bridge attacks that took place recently in Britain).

The other four issues were translations from previous editions of ‘Rumiyah’. 

Online propaganda 

ISIS online propaganda is an important pillar in its strategy that is used to attract sympathizers from all over the world, thousands of whom have traveled to Syria and Iraq. It is difficult to measure the degree of its success in Iran.

Some analysts believe that the ideology of ISIS has little interest among Sunni Iranians constituting between 5 and 10 percent of the total 81 million population, although Sunnis in Iran are routinely subjected to harassment, discrimination and marginalization. However, ISIS remains a threat to Iran.

Last August, Intelligence minister Mahmoud Alawi said that the authorities had prevented 1,500 Iranians from joining ISIS.

Last week, in the eastern province of Nangarhar in Afghanistan, where reports confirm that ISIS is active, the Afghan authorities published a video of a man claiming that he is from western Iran’s Azerbaijan and had joined ISIS through the Telegram application, the most widespread means of communication in Iran.

He said: “By the name of God, I am Yasser from Western Azerbaijan” claiming that an unspecified number of Iranians have joined and arrived in Nangarhar. The fact that the four attackers of the parliament and the shrine of Khomeini came from a Sunni Kurdish town, means that Iranians of different ethnicities have joined ISIS. The Kurdish media are full of stories from Iranian Kurds groups (also from Iraq’s Kurds) who joined ISIS and the Fatah al-Sham group that is linked to al-Qaeda. The Kurdish channels that are loyal to ISIS aired dozens of videos of Iranian Kurds reaching Raqqa and Mosul. 

Difficult to gain sympathy 

ISIS has long sought to launch an attack inside Iran, where 90 percent of the population is Shiite, and the proportion of Shiites in Tehran amounts to 95 percent. Thus, it is difficult for ISIS to gain sympathy or potential in recruiting new members in Iran, which is also the case in the Arab and Muslim world with Sunni majority.

ISIS or others, plotting a terrorist operation within Iran was expected. There is rising anger among Sunnis and the Arab world against Iran and its interference in Arab countries and the Middle East to achieve its ambitions, and its support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad that is responsible for a large number of civilian casualties, its support for former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, Lebanese Hezbollah and Shiite militias in Iraq.

Even at the level of non-political and non-religious groups, there is a considerable hostility towards the Iranian regime.

On the other hand, these extremist Sunni radical groups, whether ISIS, al-Qaeda or others, are seeking to overthrow Arab regimes before overthrowing the Iranian regime. Therefore, the Iranian regime seeks to distort the image of Saudi Arabia to protect itself as it knows that Persian nationalism is against Saudi Arabia, and this hostility brings together the Iranian opposition and religious clerics. This is where the sectarian religious factor fades.

What has happened is a setback for the government and officials who were till now proud that Iran was a safe haven in a terrorized Middle East. What has happened shook the confidence of many Iranians regarding their security forces because they discovered that their mysterious security system can be penetrated and decoded. 

Deeply involved in Syria conflict 

Iran has been deeply involved in the Syrian conflict. It has given billions of dollars to the Assad regime, where millions have been displaced and turned into refugees. It is therefore illogical for Iran to remain immune to the Syrian backlash, not to mention that it has supported terrorism in the region and the world.

The attack of ISIS will not have a moderate effect on Iran’s regional policies. The first response on the field was the images of General Qassem Soleimani on the Iraqi-Syrian borders, with mercenary fighters from the Afghan Fatimiyon brigade.

The regime tends to use this terrorist attack to continue its support for the Assad regime and the Popular Mobilization in Iraq, under the pretext that it is better to fight ISIS outside Iran rather than inside one’s own country. However, ISIS was able to destabilize Iran.

The Itimad newspaper published an article in which it considered the attack as a ‘golden opportunity’ to show national unity and warned of ‘childish’ retaliation attempts.

Another newspaper pointed the finger at Michael D’Andrea, the new head of the CIA’s Iran Operations. The problem in this case is that the one who prepared the poison will be suffering from it, and the pain may have reached Iran.

This article was also published in Arabic.

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Last Update: Friday, 16 June 2017 KSA 17:25 - GMT 14:25
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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