Skip to content
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Sunni and Arab Opposition Attack the Iranian Regime’s Security Forces and Critical Infrastructure

Filed under: Iran

Sunni and Arab Opposition Attack the Iranian Regime’s Security Forces and Critical Infrastructure
Moment of the attack on an Iranian parade in Ahvaz, Iran that killed at least 25 on September 22, 2018.

Toward the end of January 2019, two terror attacks were carried out in Iran by Sunni (the Army of Justice – Jaish ul-Adl) and Arab (the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, or ASMLA) opposition movements. Both of these opposition movements, as well as other opposition organizations, have increased their attacks on the security forces of the Iranian regime in recent months, as well as on the regime’s energy and economic infrastructures.

Jaish ul-Adl

On January 29, 2019, in the city of Zahedan (which is located close to the tripoint of the borders between Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), capital of the province of Sistan and Baluchestan, activists from the Balochi organization, the Army of Justice, set off explosive charges at the local police station used by members of Iran’s intelligence services and Revolutionary Guard. The media in Iran reported that at least four people were injured among the police forces in the area. They were apparently wounded when they attempted to neutralize one of the explosives. According to the organization, the second explosive charge was detonated when additional forces arrived in the area following the explosion of the first bomb.1

On October 15, 2018, the Army of Justice abducted 14 members of the Iranian security forces in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan and transferred them to a secret location in Pakistan. About a month later, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard announced that five of these captives were released and handed over by the Pakistani security forces. Iran is continuing with its efforts to release the rest of the captives.

Opponents attacked an Iranian military parade in Ahvaz in September 2019. More than 25 soldiers were killed. (Iran’s Press TV)

On December 6, 2018, a suicide bomber from another Balochi organization, Ansar Al-Furqan, blew up a booby-trapped vehicle next to the police headquarters in Iran’s only deep-water port city of Chabahar, which is also in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan. This city is of great economic importance, and it has even received a waiver from the sanctions re-imposed by the United States on Iran in order to allow trade between India and the countries of central Asia and also to transfer international aid and merchandise to Afghanistan.

The ASMLA emblem
The ASMLA emblem pointedly labels the body of water in the map the “Arabian Gulf” and not the “Persian Gulf.”

On January 26, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz took responsibility for a shooting attack on a police car2 in the city of Bandar-e Emam Khomeyni in the province of Khuzestan in southwestern Iran, in which two policemen were killed.3 The Iranian regime blamed members of this organization for an attack (in September 2018) on a military parade in the city of Ahvaz, during which 25 people were killed and dozens more were injured. ISIS also took responsibility for the attack.4

Iran considers the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz to be a terrorist organization. On November 8, 2017, the Iranian intelligence services assassinated its leader and founder Ahmad Mola Nissi near his home in The Hague. Recently, Holland accused Iran of assassinating him, and the European Union even imposed sanctions on the Iranian intelligence ministry as a result of this incident.

Since the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran, Sunni opposition groups (some of which are affiliated  with ISIS) and Arab separatists (most of whom are Shiites, who make up more than 30 percent of the population in Khuzestan) have been working to free themselves from the yoke of the “Iranian occupation.” They have raised the profile of their activities, apparently to arouse social unrest and civil disobedience while making use of the deteriorating economic situation.

The terror attacks are primarily directed toward the members of the Iranian security forces, energy infrastructure, and financial institutions (banks) in Khuzestan. Until now, the regime has managed to deal very harshly – mostly through arrests and assassinations – with these threats, but if they become more frequent and cause significant financial damage, the regime may find itself with a problem due to the worsening economic situation caused by the sanctions, primarily in these two provinces, which are problematic from the ethnic-religious viewpoint. These most challenging elements are the Sunni Balochi minority in the province of Sistan and Baluchestan and the Arab minority in Khuzestan.

* * *