IS Poses Strong Threat to Iran’s Security

IS Poses Strong Threat to Iran’s Security
IS Poses Strong Threat to Iran’s Security

The self-styled Islamic State terror group may be on the wane in Iraq and Syria but for Iran, the threat is still strong, centered on Kurdish communities along the Iraq-Iran border where militants have operated in recent years.

The locals even have a nickname for the area, “Tora Bora”, after the mountain hideout al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fled to after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, a senior Iraqi security official in the border region said, according to Reuters.

In late January, three Islamic Revolution Guards Corps forces were killed in the Bamo region fighting 21 IS militants who had sneaked in from Iraq. Three militants detonated suicide vests and two others were killed in the clash.

Days earlier, Iran’s Intelligence Ministry found a weapons cache in the town of Marivan on the Iranian side of the border that included TNT, electronic detonators, grenades, ammunition clips for AK-47 machine guns and rocket propelled grenades.

The clash and discovery indicate that IS could have the ability to penetrate Iran’s security net, which has largely managed to avoid the devastation wrought by the terror group in neighboring countries.

“Today [Islamic State] does not control a country ... to assert that they exist, they may carry out an attack any day,” Hossein Dehqan, a former defense minister, said in a recent interview with Tasnim News Agency.

The presence of militants in the area around Halabja, the largest town on the Iraqi side, is not new. 

Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the jihadist largely blamed for stoking a civil war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias, led a group in the area called Ansar al-Islam, which merged with IS in 2014.

Many of Kurds now fighting with IS are part of a second generation of militants largely influenced by Zarqawi’s deadly legacy, Iraqi security officials and Kurdish Peshmerga commanders familiar with the matter say.

Ultra-hardline Sunni IS militants see Shias, who make up the majority of Iran’s population, as apostates and have repeatedly threatened to carry out attacks in the Islamic Republic.

Hamai Hama Seid, a senior Peshmerga commander, said Kurdish IS militants take advantage of their knowledge of the language and region as well as strong cross-border ties.

“There are definitely ties between the Iranian and Iraqi extremists on the two sides of the border,” Seid told Reuters. 

He added, “The militants exploited this area because it’s mountainous, difficult and wooded.”

Many of the young men are poorly educated and have few economic opportunities, allowing extremist recruiters to flourish, Iraqi security officials and Peshmerga commanders say.

  June Attack

Iranian authorities say the arms cache found on the border was going to be used to attack civilians in public areas, a follow-up to the shocking assault on the parliament in Tehran and the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, last June that left at least 18 people.

IS claimed responsibility for that assault and threatened more. 

The June attack was conceived by an Iraqi militant using the nom de guerre Abu Aisha, a senior commander in a unit of IS fighting in Iraq and Syria made up exclusively of Kurds, according to Iran’s Intelligence Ministry.

The Tehran attackers fought in Mosul and Raqqa and trained outside Iran, the ministry said.

In the fall of 2016, a number of Kurdish IS militants led by Abu Aisha came to an Iraqi border village near Halabja to try to establish a base of operations which could carry out attacks in both Iran and Iraq, according to Iraqi security officials familiar with the matter.

Peshmerga killed Abu Aisha in December 2016, according to Iraqi security officials and a Kurdish activist.

Afterward, Seryas Sadeqi, who ran a bakery with his brother in Paveh, an Iranian town about 15 km from the border, took over as lead planner for the Tehran attacks, the activist said.

Sadeqi knew Abu Aisha and had crossed back and forth into Iraq with him multiple times.

“Sadeqi was still very eager that this operation be carried out,” the activist said. “He played a key role.”

During the attack on the mausoleum, Sadeqi detonated a suicide vest. The other four attackers were also killed.

Add new comment

Read our comment policy before posting your viewpoints