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Number 62 ● 5 December 2013 



Raz Zimmt*


On November 6, the "Army of Justice" (Jaish ul-Adl) claimed responsibility for the assassination of Musa Nouri, public prosecutor of Zabol, a city located in Iran’s south-eastern Sistan and Balochistan province. In its statement, the organization explained that the assassination was an act of revenge for the execution of 16 Balochi prisoners two weeks earlier. The organization accused Nouri of involvement in the execution of “hundreds of young Balochis,” in collaboration with Mohammad Marzieh, Zahedan public prosecutor, who was also marked as a target by the organization (Jaish ul-Adl blogNovember 6, 2013).


The logo of the Army of Justice


Nouri’s assassination took place a mere two weeks after another serious incident, in which 14 Iranian border guards were killed in confrontations with armed men in the vicinity of Saravan, on the Iran-Pakistan border. Jaish ul-Adl also claimed responsibility for this incident, which occurred on October 25 (Jaish ul-AdlOctober 2013). In response, Iranian authorities executed 16 Balochi prisoners who were held in a jail in Zahedan. Eight of the prisoners were active in Jundollah, a group responsible for several dozen attacks against government targets in Sistan and Balochistan province in the past decade. The remaining eight were drug dealers (Mashrak News, October 27, 2013).


The recent incidents in Sistan and Balochistan province mark a renewed escalation of the hostilities between Iranian authorities and the Balochi underground, which has persisted for several years. Members of the Balochi minority, who are Sunni Muslims, account for 2 percent of Iran’s population. They are concentrated in Sistan and Balochistan province and suffer from ongoing discrimination in education and employment. After the Islamic Revolution, the Balochis, like Iran’s other ethnic minorities (with the exception of the Azeris), put forward demands for autonomy. Balochistan province is one of the largest centers of the drug trade in Iran, and is considered one of the country’s most backward provinces. The province’s local population lives in tribes. Balochis also live in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a fact that increases the authorities’ concerns of separatist tendencies in the province.


This past year, the Balochi insurgency has been led largely by the Army of Justice organization, established in April 2012. The announcement of its establishment, posted on April 19 on the organization’s website, stated that its goal was to protect Iran’s oppressed citizens, and especially members of the Sunni minority in the country. The organization’s members are young Sunnis who united to protect Sunnis from the continued oppression by Iranian authorities, and to oppose the regime’s policy, which, according to organization founders, is based on humiliation, discrimination, executions, torture, targeted killing of intellectuals and clergy, destruction of mosques and religious schools, and economic, political, and cultural discrimination(Jaish ul-AdlApril 2012). In May 2012, the organization published a statement that Salahuddin al-Farouqi was elected leader of the organization. Faroughi elected Mohsen Mahmoudi as the organization’s spokesperson, and declared that a central council would be established in the near future, and published the organization’s charter (Jaish ul-AdlMay 2012). 



Salahuddin al-Farouqi, leader of the "Army of Justice"


Since its foundation, the Army of Justice has claimed responsibility for a series of operations against Iran’s domestic security forces and Revolutionary Guards operating in Sistan and Balochistan province, including the detonation of mines against Revolutionary Guards vehicles and convoys, and attacks against military bases located in the province. The group claims that dozens of Revolutionary Guard members were killed in these operations, most of which were not reported in official Iranian media. 


Two additional underground organizations have been operating since 2011 in Balochistan province alongside the Army of Justice: Sepah-e-Sahaba and Harakat al-Ansar Iran, both associated with global Jihadist elements. Sepah-e-Sahaba is evidently tied to the organization with the same name that has operated in Pakistan since the 1980s, and is now operating under the name Ahl-e Sunnat Wal Jamaat. In March 2011, the organization claimed responsibility for detonating a gas pipe in the vicinity of Qom (sokhane-ashena) and on November 2012 claimed responsibility for an attack on the base of the Revolutionary Guards’ Basij base in Zahedan (ostomaan website). Harakat al-Ansar Iran (also known as Ansar al-Sunnat Iran) increased its operations since 2012 as well. In July 2013, the organization claimed responsibility for an attack on the law enforcement forces headquarters in Chah Bahar on the shores of the Gulf of Oman. In an interview with al-Arabiya network, the organization's spokesperson Abu-Hafez al-Balochi stated that the suicide attack was carried out in response to Iran’s continued support of President Assad’s government in Syria (ISNA, July 10, 2013). The relationship between the three organizations is not entirely clear, nor is it clear whether they are collaborators or rivals. In a statement issued by Harakat al-Ansar in December 2012, the movement denied any disagreements with Sepah-e-Sahaba and stressed that both organizations are collaborating, and that claims of differences are false and disseminated by Iranian authorities in order to quell Balochi organizations’ opposition to the regime (iranmilitarynews). 


The Balochi organizations use the Internet and social networks extensively to promote their propaganda efforts. The Army of Justice operates two blogs (Jaish ul-Adl and edalat news), where posts on its activities are updated regularly. The organization also has Facebook and Tweeter accounts. Harakat al-Ansar Iran also conducts intensive Internet and social media campaigns, including on Tweeter and YouTube. The organizations’ activities on the Internet and social networks are conducted concurrently in Persian, Arabic, and English.


The recent escalation in Sistan and Balochistan province follows a period of relatively calm after the capture and execution of Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi in June 2010 (see Iran Pulse no. 41, December 19, 2010). Since its establishment in 2003, Jundollah committed a long line of armed attacks in the province, which is populated by over three million citizens, most of whom belong to the Balochi minority. Hundreds of civilians and security forces were killed in these attacks. Iranian authorities claimed that Jundollah is a terrorist organization that is funded by US and UK intelligence services and maintains ties with the al-Qaeda network. Prominent Jundollah attacks include the organization’s failed assassination of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in December 2005, during his visit to Zabol; the terrorist attack in the village of Tasuki in March 2006, in which 21 civilians were killed; the attack in the city of Zahedan in February 2007, in which 18 members of the Revolutionary Guards were killed; the suicide bombing in the city of Saravan in December 2008, killing several police officers; the attack on the Shiite mosque in Zahedan in May 2008, in which 25 people were killed; and the suicide bomb in the city of Sarbaz in October 2009, killing over 40 people including senior Revolutionary Guard officers.


Rigi’s execution by hanging on June 19, 2010 was considered a powerful blow to the organization, but soon after his capture, the organization announced that it would continue its opposition against the Iranian government. The renewed escalation in Balochistan province demonstrates that the Iranian government’s achievements in its campaign against the Balochis were merely temporary. In October 2013, Commander of the Revolutionary Guards Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari stated that his organization prevented 11 terrorist attacks in south-eastern Iran during the first half of the Iranian year, from March 21, 2012 to September 22, 2013 (IRNA, October 20, 2013). Shortly afterward, Commander of the Iranian Border Guards Hossein Zolfaqari stated that 107 incidents had occurred on the Iran-Pakistan border since March 2013, 67 of these involving armed forces. According to his statement, 20 insurgents were killed in these incidents and large quantities of arms and drugs were discovered (ISNA, October 29, 2013).


As the violent incidents in Balochistan province continue, the minority issue continues to hold a key spot on the public agenda in Iran. During the recent presidential election campaign, as ethnic minority representatives repeatedly demanded a change in government policy toward them, several candidates, including elected president Hassan Rouhani, attempted to mobilize minority support by promising to improve their circumstances and rights. Rouhani’s election raised minority expectations of a change in the discriminatory policy against them, especially in view of the fact that Rouhani received especially strong support in several provinces populated by the country’s ethnic minorities, particularly in Sistan and Balochistan, and Kurdistan provinces, where he won over 70% of the votes. 


Shortly after Rouhani’s election, he met with the Sunni religious leader in Iran, Molavi Abdolhamid. In an interview with the daily reformist Bahar, the senior Sunni official stated that the meeting with Rouhani had been favorable and constructive and that the Sunnis expect the new president to take steps to eliminate the discrimination practiced against them. Abdolhamid praised Rouhani and expressed his hope that the president elect would take action to improve the situation and status of minorities and integrate them into his new government. Abdolhamid noted that the Sunnis demand equality, justice, and absolute freedom of religion, and claimed that the citizens living in Sunni-populated areas still suffer from hardships and discrimination even though some improvement had occurred in their economic situation due to the implementation of provincial development plans. He specifically mentioned the problem of discrimination against Sunnis with respect to senior administrative appointments on a national and provincial level (Bahar News, June 25, 2013). 


The minority issue also continues to inflame public sensitivities in Iran from time to time. This was evident, for example, in July 2013, when a text-message competition organized by mobile phone company Irancell caused an outcry among members of the Sunni minority and triggered calls to boycott the company. The storm erupted after the company conducted a text-message competition among its clients, which included several questions that clients answered. In one of the questions, the second Muslim Caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khatab was called “someone deceived by the devil.” According to Shiite tradition, Umar’s appointment by the first Caliph Abu-Baker as his successor was misguided as it prevented the rise of power of Ali ibn Abu Talib, whom the Shiites consider Muhammad’s legitimate heir. The question prompted a sharp response from the Sunni minority, who denounced the grave affront to the Sunnis and their religious beliefs. In response to the contest, a group of Balochi students and religious students published a searing condemnation against Irancell, stating that the offense to Sunnis’ religious beliefs in Iran plays into the hands of the country’s enemies and undermines national unity. The formulators of the statement demanded that the authorities take steps against those responsible for publishing the offensive question in the company’s text-message contest (FARS, July 20, 2013). Following the public outcry, the company was forced to suspend the competition and publish a public apology. 


Ethnic-related tensions also increased recently in Kurdistan province following the execution in early November of three political prisoners of Kurdish origin:Habibollah Golparipour, Reza Esmaili and Shirku Maarefi.The Kurds of Iran also suffer from twofold discrimination, as members of an ethnic-linguistic minority and as members of the Sunni religious minority. The execution of the three prisoners prompted sharp condemnation by human rights activists and triggered protest actions in Kurdish cities in north-western Iran. President Rouhani’s advisor on ethnic and religious minority affairs, Ali Yunesi, expressed his reservations about the executions and attributed them to “extreme elements” (Rooz online, November 6, 2013).  


The violent incidents in Sistan and Balochistan province and increasing tension in areas populated by ethnic-linguistic minorities, highlight the challenge that the ethnic issue continues to pose for Iranian authorities. Although the new president promised to take steps to improve the circumstances of the minorities and reduce the discrimination against them, such promises had already been made in the past and ultimately were never implemented. The persistent discrimination against minorities, alongside the commitment of several minority organizations to pursue an armed struggle against the government, undermine the government’s ability to reach a settlement that will satisfy the minorities and put an end to the violent struggle on Iran’s borders■


 *Raz Zimmt (PhD) is a research fellow at the Alliance Center for Iranian Studies 

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Iran Pulse No. 62 ● 5 December 2013 

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