Iran’s Intelligence Ministry says it has arrested 27 terrorists linked with the Islamic State, the Iranian media reported today. A statement released by the ministry claimed that the terrorist group planned terrorist attacks in Iran’s strategic provinces and religious cities, and that Iranian intelligence agents also confiscated weapons and explosive material the militants were attempting to smuggle into Iran. The ministry pointed out that the counterterrorism operation was successful as a result of cooperation with the intelligence agency of a regional country, but it did not reveal the name of the country or the location of the operation. “In this regard, 10 individuals were detained in this group’s training base on the other side of the borders, while 17 others were arrested inside the country,” the statement added.
Comment: Iranian leaders often try to justify their costly military involvement in neighboring countries by telling the Iranian people that it has to fight Iran’s enemies abroad to maintain security and stability at home. But the June 7 twin attacks in Tehran and subsequent arrests of dozens of militants allegedly linked with the Islamic State may further undermine the regime narrative at a time when support among Iranians for the Syrian war is at its nadir. The arrest of dozens of suspected terrorists across the country in recent months also indicate that the Islamic State has succeeded to infiltrate Iran and recruit among the country’s disenfranchised Sunni minority. In May, the Iranian intelligence minister that the country’s security forces had identified and disbanded about 30 terrorist cells over the past Iranian calendar year, which ended on March 20, 2017.
In addition, as the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate is collapsing in Iraq and Syria, the terrorist group appears to have chosen Iran as a new battleground. In recent months, the extremist Sunni group has dialed up sectarian against the Shiite Islamic Republic – particularly appealing to Iran’s Sunni community. One recent Islamic State video directly challenged Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s legitimacy. "Oh, Khamenei, you cursed person, you who has the control of the idolatrous so-called Islamic Iranian regime in your unclean hands, rest assured that soon we will destroy your house like this on your head," the militant in the video said pointing to ruins behind him.
Security situation in Iran’s southwestern and northwestern regions has particularly been tense and volatile. With a sizable yet largely marginalized Sunni population, the southwestern province of Sistan and Baluchestan can be a breeding ground for local militant and separatist movements as well regional and international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Sunni Baluchs, who constitute a plurality of the population in the province, have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings. Sistan and Baluchestan also borders Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Islamic State has gained a foothold recently.
In the northeast, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (P.D.K.I.) has armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, P.D.K.I.’s secretary general, said in January that their resistance was not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but it is a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” PDKI militants based in the Iraqi Kurdistan have repeatedly crossed the border and clashed with the I.R.G.C. in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.