There’s been much talk recently of the motives behind the terrorist attacks that targeted Iran’s parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, and there will be much talk in media outlets on those responsible. Despite the fact that ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack, certain ambiguities still exist regarding the operators behind them.
Looking into the previous instances of ISIS’s terrorist attacks around the world, one would conclude that this is not the work of ISIS. Taking the videos that were circulated of the attackers that had been recorded in the days prior to the attacks into question, none of these were circulated in the name of ISIS, nor did they show its banner. Moreover, on the day of the attack, there were no indicators pointing towards ISIS or its black banner.
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya TV was the first media outlet to broadcast the video sent by the attackers, and after that, ISIS’s Aamaq broadcast that same video, announcing that ISIS claims responsibility for the attack. In reality, the fact that the attackers spoke Arabic in the video would have one think that they are affiliated with ISIS, and it’s easier to believe that ISIS would be behind it.
The question that comes to mind is, if ISIS was not behind these attacks, then why did it claim responsibility for them? In answering this question it must be said that one of ISIS’s goals has always been to showcase itself, and show its capabilities on the international level, performing terrorist attacks around the world to show that it has the ability to perform such actions all over the world, such as its attacks in European countries and elsewhere. Furthermore, ISIS sees Iran as one of its most important enemies, and had threatened to perform terrorist attacks against it time and time again, always failing to perform any attacks on Iranian soil. It so follows that these latest attacks are the best chance for it to make some political gains without putting up any of the costs.
Another question that comes to mind is: who are the true perpetrators of the Tehran attacks then? The “Ansar al-Islam” organization is a radical Sunni organization, active in Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, is anti-Iranian, and has deep religious and ethnic differences with the Shia system ruling Iran. It has arranged a number of operations against the Iranian state in the past, and some informed sources have cited them as being behind the Tehran attacks. We will discuss this group’s role in the management and the execution of the attacks as we go along.
Mullah Krekar is one of the well-known Salafi figures of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan. He had been a follower of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan for a number of years and fought alongside him. Upon his return to Halabja he began spreading Salafi Jihadism in Iraqi Kurdistan, founding Ansar al-Islam, which simultaneously fought against Saddam Hussein and the Taliban and Barzani movements. After 9/11, he added fighting the U.S to his agenda.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi left Afghanistan, settling in Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan. The members of Ansar al-Islam, who were mostly Sunni Kurds from Iraq and Iran, were placed under his ideological and intellectual tutelage. This is why this organization considers Al-Zarqawi to be its spiritual leader.
During Zarqawi’s stay in Iraq, especially in August 2003, three months after the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he planned and led the Najaf attacks which resulted in the assassination of Sayyid Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, the head of the Shia Supreme Council of Iraq on August 29th, in the shrine of Imam Ali, the first Imam of Twelver Shia Muslims. After the incident, he established “Tanzim al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn”, Al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, which eventually came to form ISIS.
Throughout their period of activity, Ansar al-Islam managed to gain great ideological and intellectual influence among Iranian Kurds, leading to the formation of the “Tawhid and Jihad” group. This group, through its commencement of operations since 2011, managed to impose itself as a serious player among Jihadi groups. Furthermore, being the earliest of Salafi Jihadist groups in Iran, it began to spread the ideas of ISIS when the latter revealed itself, and a number of them have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq with ISIS. The group was active in Western Iran and its neighbor Iraq, and enjoyed financial support from some of the region’s wealthier countries whose politics run counter to Iran’s.
Another matter is that anti-Iran groups, apart from their relations with anti-Iran countries, also possess relations with other anti-Iran groups, and cooperate with one another. One of the oldest of these groups is the MEK, which in the post-revolutionary period had many differences with Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s then supreme leader, and began fighting the new rule. This organization, in its efforts to combat the Iranian administration, has relations with all anti-Iranian groups, including Ansar al-Islam, and cooperates with them. The MEK enjoys political and social support from the U.S, as well as financial support from Saudi Arabia.
Some informed sources have said almost 50 members of Ansar al-Islam, all of whom are Iranian, Kurdish Sunni Muslims, operate from a base linked to the MOC operations room in Jordan, under the military and operational tutelage of the MEK, and are now ready to launch wide attacks inside Iranian soil.
These sources have also added that the MEK handled the planning of these latest operations, and that Ansar al-Islam executed them on the anniversary of al-Zarqawi’s death. However, because of Iran’s security forces’ grip on Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan, and their fears of backlash from Iran, Ansar al-Islam decided it was better to conceal their responsibility for these operations, remaining silent, and letting ISIS claim responsibility for them.
It is noticeable that Saudi Arabia’s king, Iran’s traditional opponent in the region, has supported all radical anti-Iran groups, and even political opposition outside of Iran, such as the MEK, both financially and morally. So much so that Prince Turki al-Faysal, the former head of Saudi Intelligence, in his speech before the MEK’s yearly conference in 2016 in Paris, announced Saudi Arabia’s full support of the organization, as well as all anti-Iran groups.
Saudi Arabia will continue to support these groups in the possibility that Iran, a Shia Islamist country, might be weakened or its system of government changed. Saudi Arabia has accused Iran, on a number of occasions, of supporting terrorism and exporting its revolution to other countries, and interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries. Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Minister of Defense and Deputy Crown Prince, has very recently accused Iran of trying to control the entire region, and threatened to create instability and take the war to within Iranian soil. Meanwhile, refuting Saudi claims, Iran’s minister of defense said that if Saudi Arabia should start a war with Iran, nowhere will remain safe in Saudi Arabia but for Mecca and Medina, which are sacred ground. Taking all these factors into question, are the Tehran attacks also a message that the Middle East will be the arena of a military bout between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
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