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At least 1,500 Iranians prevented from joining IS: Intelligence minister

Iran's intelligence minister says '160 million eyes are watching the security of the country' helping stop IS attacks
Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi waves during a campaign meeting in Tehran (AFP)

Tehran - Iran has stopped at least 1,500 Iranians from being recruited by the Islamic State group, the country’s intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, announced on Saturday.

“We spotted and thwarted more than 1,500 young people who intended to join Daesh,” he was quoted as saying by local Iranian media, using an alternative term for IS.

Apart from Turkey, Iran is the closest country to the IS strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, but in spite of the heavy involvement of Iranian forces and volunteers in combating IS in Iraq and Syria it has so far suffered no major retaliation from the group.

The minister gave no new details of the anti-IS operations in Iran and the weight and reliability of his ministry’s evidence against those suspected of being potential IS recruits are unknown.

On a live TV programme on Wednesday, he said the country’s success in blocking IS was because of the vigilance of the general public.

“160 million eyes are watching the security of the country, and so far the clues and information we have received from the public have proven effective," he said.

One example he gave was the recent discovery of tunnels being dug in the direction of two military sites in the southeast of the country.

Despite blocking 1,500 new IS recruits, the Iranian army’s ground force commander, Ahmad Pourdastan, earlier this month said some Iranians, particularly from western provinces bordering Iraq, had joined IS.

Some have managed to infiltrate back into Iran, and Iranian security forces occasionally report clashes with IS cells. In mid-August, they said they had killed four IS men and arrested eight others in separate clashes in western Kermanshah province. They identified one of the dead as Abu Aeshe Kurdi, commander of an IS brigade in Mosul.

In June, Iran announced it had thwarted several planned bombings in Tehran and other Iranian cities in what it said was a major plot by Sunni militants.

No evidence was given but the aim of the announcement seemed to be to reassure Iranians that the kind of massacres suffered by Iraq and Turkey, and by European cities, will not occur in Iran.

As well as facing threats from IS, Iran suffers from occasional unrest in northwestern provinces where large communities of Kurds live. The dead IS brigade commander, Abu Aeshe Kurdi, was a Kurd.

Two separate Kurdish groups which want autonomy for their region in Iran have been mounting periodic armed attacks for many years.

Iran complains regularly to the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq but stepped up its statements of concern this summer. Karim Senjari, the KRG’s interior minister, was invited to Tehran a fortnight ago.

The KRG has accused Iran of mounting bombing raids inside Iraqi Kurdish territory. On 13 June the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its forces killed five members of the armed group, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) - an off-shoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which fights for autonomy in Turkey - near the city of Sardasht.

Senjari told the Iranian media: “We won’t allow violence on our borders with Iran and will fight disrupters in the border regions by mobilising our military and security capabilities.”

Iran has also accused the Komala party, a group of Iranian Kurds who were active in the 1980s and 1990s, of resuming cross-border attacks in Iran.

One prominent victim of a terrorist attack is Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, an MP from Eslamabad-e Garb in the western province of Kermanshah.

In an interview during a pause in debates in the Majlis (parliament), he recalled the incident which almost took his life last month. He was driving with the governor of Dalahou county, a local fisheries official and the head of the county’s veterinary department, when their vehicle came under sustained fire from automatic weapons.

He was lucky to escape unhurt, but two of the others were killed.

“Our country is a safe country. But sometimes from border countries, which are unfortunately plagued with terrorism supported by Western countries and some Arab countries, terroristic harassing acts occur.

“One happened to me and my colleagues, and two of our friends [the driver and the veterinary official] were martyred.”

Some arrests had been made and a full investigation was underway, but the preliminary conclusion was that “this issue has nothing to do with Kurds”.

The MP put it down to IS or its allied groups.

“The terrorists have not achieved their objectives and are failing in the field in Iraq and Syria. So they try to act in a harassing and suicidal way, especially against countries which enjoy stability, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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