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Jundallah: Profile Of A Sunni Extremist Group

Iranians carry the coffin of General Nourali Shoushtari, one of the Revolutionary Guards commanders killed in the suicide attack claimed by Jundallah.
Iranians carry the coffin of General Nourali Shoushtari, one of the Revolutionary Guards commanders killed in the suicide attack claimed by Jundallah.
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By Abubakar Siddique
After the October 18 suicide attack in southeastern Iran that killed at least 42 people, including elite military commanders and tribal elders, the extremist group Jundallah is suddenly at the center of international attention.

Jundallah (God's Soldiers) champions the cause of Iran's 1.5 million ethnic Baluchis, who live under severe political and cultural oppression as a Sunni Muslim minority in the predominantly Shi'ite country.

Following the attack, in which five high-ranking officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were killed, the IRGC's commander accused the United States, Britain, and the Pakistani intelligence services of backing the group, and of protecting its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi.

The three countries have condemned the attack and denied backing Jundallah, but Tehran continues to insist that the group had foreign support.

Immediately following the attack, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad demanded that Islamabad help Iran track down and hand over Jundallah members who Tehran believes masterminded the attacks, and who Iranian officials allege are hiding in Pakistan.

"We ask the Pakistani government not to delay any longer in the apprehension of the main elements in this terrorist attack," Ahmadinejad said. "We were informed that some security agents in Pakistan are cooperating with the main elements of this terrorist incident. We regard it as our right to demand these criminals."

Jundallah, which reportedly has been renamed the Iranian Peoples' Resistance Movement, has claimed many high-profile attacks in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province in recent years. Experts suggest that the group is a good example of how extremism can develop among the marginalized borderland communities in Southwest Asia, and how militant groups can act as asymmetrical tools in complicated relations among competing regional states.

Nationalism And Religion

Abdol Sattar Doshoki, a Baluchi political activist-turned-analyst in London, says that Jundallah leader Rigi was a "young Sunni religious devotee" who had a falling out with the Iranian government a few years ago and found support among young Baluchi religious zealots in his native region.

Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi is described as a 'Sunni religious devotee.'
But his violent movement has also garnered some sympathy from ordinary Baluchis who see their identity as under attack from Iran, and see Jundallah as a defender.

"Baluch people are being discriminated against on two specific grounds. No. 1 is their religion. An overwhelming number of Baluchis are Sunni, and the regime is Shi'ite," Doshoki says.

"The second ground for discrimination is ethnicity. Most of the officials -- or I should say, maybe all of them -- are Persian speaking," in contrast to the Baluchi-speaking minority, Doshoki says. "So this friction and animosity between the regime and the people always existed. And therefore it is a kind of subliminal war going on between the regime and the people."

Despite living along strategic trade routes atop a wealth of untapped hydrocarbon and mineral deposits, members of Southwest Asia's Baluchi minority have found it difficult to emerge from poverty and repression.

More than 8 million members of the beleaguered nation call the Iranian Plateau their home. Their population spans the borders of Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, with their southern reaches hemmed in by the Arabian Sea.

Some 60 percent are concentrated in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan Province, where they seek autonomy and have been in the grips of a violent insurgency -- their fifth in modern history -- since 2004. Their insurrection and most political movements are staunchly secular.

But for the 1.5 million Baluchis living in Iran, Doshoki says, the mosque is their only real place of association, leading the causes of Sunni extremism to become mixed with Baluchi ethno-nationalism and separatism in southeastern Iran.

In southwestern Afghanistan, 1 million Baluchis and their Hanafi school of jurisprudence are more in keeping with the majority.

Foreign Connection?

Since its emergence in 2003, Jundallah has taken credit for some 10 attacks, including three suicide bombing since last December and the mass kidnappings of Iranian soldiers and civilians.

Iran has responded by cracking down hard on Jundallah and its perceived supporters. Most of those arrested are summarily executed, according to human rights watchdogs.

Last year, Pakistan extradited Abdolhamid Rigi, a younger brother of Jundallah's leader, to Iran, where he now awaits execution.

Doshoki says that it is difficult to establish who, exactly, supports Jundallah because Tehran has never provided evidence to back its accusations that the group receives support from Washington, London, or Islamabad.

Doshoki sees Jundallah as a pawn in a complicated chess game between states in the region. And he points to the strong possibility that Pakistan supports Jundallah in retaliation for alleged Indian financing of Baluchi rebels fighting the Pakistani Army through Iran.

"There is some evidence and some reasons for Iranian to believe that Pakistan is conniving with Jundallah, or at least not being harsh on them," he says.

“Pakistan, I think, has got this grievance against Iran that it should not allow the Indian Consulate -- at least in Zahedan [the capital of Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province] -- to help the Baluch political activists or even the armed [separatist] groups including Baluchistan Liberation Front," Doshoki adds. "So there are some grievances on both sides.... I think is not very clear, really."

In recent years Islamabad, Tehran, and New Delhi have been negotiating a nearly 3,000-kilometer gas pipeline linking Pakistan and India to Iranian gas fields. But instability in the Baluchi borderlands threatens the viability of that significant economic project.

Against Tehran

Tahir Muhammad Khan, a human rights activist and analyst who closely follows developments in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan Province, tells RFE/RL from the regional capital Quetta that to understand Jundallah, one has to understand the complex relationship of extremist ideologies, cross-border smuggling networks, and the ethnicities and alliances among militant organizations.

While suggesting that most information about Jundallah is based on assertions from Tehran and Islamabad that are impossible to verify, Khan says that Jundallah is an extremist Sunni organization that gets field-level support and guidance from Baluchi ethno-nationalists along the Iran-Pakistan border. And its real mission, he says, is to oppose the Shi'ite clerical regime in Tehran.

He suggests that most of Jundallah's cadres are graduates of religious seminaries or madrassahs, and its core members come from the Baluchi Rigi tribe spanning the Iran-Pakistan border. All these factors have pushed it into alliance with the Taliban in Pakistan and other extremist Sunni factions there.

"Organizations, particularly armed organizations, cannot survive without major financing. When they prepare for suicide attacks it requires a lot of finances," Khan says. "So their No. 1 ally is the network led by [former] Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. The primary goal of this network is killing Shi'a and engaging in Shi'a bashing."

He says the group's primary motives remain political, while it might be providing protection to smuggling rackets in return for funding.

Khan sees very little motive for the Pakistani government to support Jundallah as an instrument of state policy, because "it would never like to mess up its relations with Iran."

But he suggests that the Western forces based in Afghanistan might consider the Baluchi borderlands as Tehran's soft underbelly, and might see groups such as Jundallah as leverage to pressure Tehran.

Analysts suggest that the turmoil in this part of the world will rise unless regional states rethink and reconfigure their relations with their own citizens and with their neighborhood.
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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Orhan Ertugruloglu from: the Netherlands
October 20, 2009 18:41
Jundallah likely receives inspiration and material support form Baluchi nationalists in Pakistan.

by: Adine from: Kabul
October 21, 2009 07:49
The baluch nationalist who resist in Baluchistan of Pakistan are the main supporters of this terrorist group, they are the people who shelter them and Baluchistan is the best place for their trainings and practice,
it seems that the traget killing of hazara people in Quetta are also back boned by this group.

by: Mehrdad from: Iran
October 21, 2009 13:55
Isn't this terrorist group supported by the US? Former US Vice President Cheney secretly met with the supporters of this group in Pakistan. Also, New Yorker magazine had a report a few years ago about support this group gets from the US. Brother of the ring leader Rigi has also given convincing evidence that US and British governments are involved in their support, that's why he hasn't been executed in Iranian jail. He has names of people, why isn't that printed here? Additionally, it is an open secret that US has a strategy of creating tension in Iran by different minority groups, as pressure for them to accept Israeli hegemony in the middle east, this is the result. The same practice Soviet Union tried in the 40's and 50's in Iran for their own reasons and were unsuccessful. As for this terrorist act, not only Revolutionary Guard commanders were killed, there were a number of prominent Baluchi's leader who were killed or injured. The meeting was supposed to be for creating unity and address developments not a military gathering... now these Baluch leaders are blood enemies of this terrorist foreign supported gang and will take it upon themselves to get rid of them once and for all.

by: Sinav from: South Azerbaijan
October 22, 2009 21:56
Comment No.2

As you may have realized USSR even if so devil, back then was truly defending democracy in its own favor. Or it could be said that if Iran were a democratic country then there wouldn’t be a problem that could gain other country’s attention with ensuing reactions. The same problem of South Azerbaijani people still exists with Iranians even after 1945-46 events due to the same discriminatory approaches towards non-Persians. If the problem of Azerbaijan or Jondollah has again resurfaced, this doesn’t mean that U.S. or Israel or Madagascar or the Aliens from UFOs have all of a sudden developed animosity towards Iran but this is because Iran never tries to solve its problems and rather it prefers to cover up the problems by heavy handedly quelling voices of freedom.

To this pertain l assume that even if U.S. or U.K or UFOs are supporting Jondollah that’s because they’re trying face-saving approaches to the old problems of the region. If Iran wants to solve its domestic problems then it ought to practice democracy and freedom. Iran cannot stand in a fight against whole the world by blaming others for the cause of its own problems. I pledge that if Iran obeys the International human rights then most of its problems will be solved automatically. All it needs is open-mined politicians who can digest the just of human dignity and human rights. That’s what Fascist and Nazis’ didn’t possess at all.

by: Sinav from: South Azerbaijan
October 22, 2009 21:57
Comment No.1

To Mehrdad Iran:

Mr.Mehrdad I would like to elaborate on your comment:” The same practice Soviet Union tried in the 40's and 50's in Iran for their own reasons and were unsuccessful”

In 1945 Soviet Union backed Democratic Party of Azerbaijan in Iran to help her win South Azerbaijan’s autonomy. South Azerbaijani people, who were experiencing harsh discriminatory policies of Pahlavi’s since the demise of Qacar empire were at last free as a result of Soviets’ backing. I deplore the Soviets’ policies as does the majority of international community but at the same time I approve of the Soviets` policy concerning the issue of South Azerbaijan in 1945.

Here’s part of Mr. V.Molotov’s – the former foreign minister of USSR – letter on February 25 of 1946 in response to Mr. Ghavam-al-Saltana’s – The former Iranian premier – appeal to the Commissariat of Foreign Affairs of USSR in the aftermath of the initial talks that were held between Iran and USSR from February 20 to February 23(The letter ubiquitously upheld the demands of South Azerbaijani people and I’ll come back to this point later):

1. Autonomous governance should be established in the Province of Azerbaijan. This should be implemented by the provincial council of Azerbaijan and by the Azerbaijani provincial government elected by it; in counties, the county councils and their executive bodies should implement this. Elections to the council should be conducted in accordance with the regulations on elections adopted in Azerbaijan. The provincial government of Azerbaijan should have its own prime minister, ministries of land, industry-trade, internal affairs (which should have a certain number of militia forces to provide law and order), finance, labor, education, and health, transport and police departments, as well as its own courts and public prosecutors.

2. The population of the province of Azerbaijan should have the right to conduct local office works, have education, and hear court proceedings in their own mother tongue.

3. The Prime Minister of the province of Azerbaijan should be, at the same time, the governor of the province, approved by the Iranian government. Commander of the military units of Azerbaijan should be appointed by the Iranian government, upon the consent of the provincial government of Azerbaijan. Military units should be organized according to the local-national principle. Correspondence of the provincial government of Azerbaijan with the central government should be conducted in the Persian language.

4. 70% of the tax and budget revenues of the province of Azerbaijan should go to the budget of the provincial government.

5. The Iranian government should confirm free activity of the Democratic Party, trade unions and other democratic organizations in Iranian Azerbaijan.

6. Considering the real size of the population of Azerbaijan, the number of seats given to the representatives elected from Azerbaijan should be increased in the Iranian Majlis.

by: Inayat Baloch from: Balochistan
November 17, 2009 18:49
Mr. Adine has wrote, that Baloch nationalist who resist in balochistan are the main supporter of terrorist group, and again he indicating that (sorry seems) the target killing of hazara people in quetta, Mr. Adine i think you have no profe about this statement, but i have, LASHKAR-E-JANGVE is the killer of Hazar(shi ia) and the master mind of this group is pakistan army,agencies and jamait islami, if you have profe then send me, Mr. Adine Baloch are fighting against anemy who occupied "Baloch Motherland" increasing number of Baloch missing people on daily basis, we don't know they are live are not, if any person supporting the Baloch enemy then Baloch have right to know about enemy and freind of enemy.

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