Khalaji: Kurdish Salafism in Iran

Good article on Salafism in Iran by Khalaji. Also shows changing relationship of the Iranian government with Kurdish Salafist groups. (Van Wilgenburg)

In October, Iranian media reported that a group of radical Islamists had marched through the streets of Javanrud, in Iranian Kurdistan, with black flags and swords, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and intimidating the locals. According to Kurdpa, the Kurdistan Press Agency, this group aims to assert its presence in the province.

Iranian authorities have long harbored an ambiguous attitude toward the country’s Kurdish Salafists. On his May 12, 2009, trip to Kurdistan, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued this warning about Salafists: “Who are those who want to destroy the nation’s unity? These are [the] enemy’s agents…There are many poor and unaware Salafists and Wahhabis who are fed by petrodollars to go here and there and carry on terrorist operations, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places…Today this Wahhabi Salafist community regards Shiites as infidels…From where does such a wrong idea stem?”
But the Iranian leadership does not view all Salafist groups equally, and its treatment of individual groups can seem inconsistent at times. For example, while the regime has cracked down forcefully on groups such as Kataib Qaed fi Kurdistan and Navadegan Saladin in the past, members of these groups have often cooperated with the regime, and Tehran has been lenient so long as they do not pose a domestic threat. In contrast, members of groups such as Jaish Sahabeh and Ansar al-Islam, which do not cooperate with the regime and use anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian propaganda, are frequently arrested, persecuted, and banned from engaging in their activities.

Meanwhile, despite the significant restrictions placed on Salafist activities and outreach since Khamenei’s 2009 trip, several Salafist clerics remain active. These include Mullah Abdolhamid (from Marivan and active in Sanandaj and Javanrud), Mullah Mohammad Alavi (from Saqqez but based in the village of Yekshaveh), Mullah Hadi Hermidol, Mullah Osman Saqqez, and Mullah Hadi Oroomiyeh. In several cities, such as Sanandaj, Salafists also have their Dar al-Quran (House of Quran), in which they distribute books and CDs on Salafism and recruit members. Moreover, rumors suggest that Salafists have run military training camps near Sanandaj and Qasr Shirin.
According to a January 19 investigative report on the Radio Zamaneh website by Iranian journalist Omid Pooyandeh, the Salafist presence in Kurdistan dates back a decade. In 2003, when American forces attacked Ansar al-Islam at its headquarters in Oraman in Iraqi Kurdistan, some of the group’s members fled to Iran. The IRGC did not prevent their entrance, likely because Tehran believed they could be useful. According to the report, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — a prominent jihadist leader and eventual head of al-Qaeda in Iraq — spent a few months in Iranian Kurdistan, mobilizing many Baluch and Kurdish Salafi jihadists during his stay.

In late 2003, some of the Ansar al-Islam members remaining in Iran formed the group Kataib Qaed fi Kurdistan with Iranian Salafists. Its goal was to enter Iraqi Kurdistan and wage jihad there, and it conducted several operations across the border, purportedly including a failed 2005 assassination attempt against Mullah Bakhtiar, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official. At one point, and for reasons unknown, the Iranian regime barred the group from any further activities, arrested its leader, and reportedly sentenced him to thirteen years in jail; he is believed to be in Tehran’s Evin Prison today. Following the crackdown, many members moved to Afghanistan, and the group has since split into several other groups, such as Navadegan Saladin and Jaish Sahabeh, which have established strong connections to other Salafists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Zamaneh report — which drew from interviews with Kurdish activists who spent time in prison with Salafists — claims that many members of these two groups have been arrested by Iranian officials.
Overall, Kurdish sources set the number of imprisoned Salafists at about 300. They also say that the Iranian regime has killed about 250 Salafists since 2001

Posted 42 minutes ago by Wladimir van Wilgenburg