Iran group recruiting suicide bombers
November 28, 2004
TEHRAN, Iran – The 300 men filling out forms in the offices of an Iranian aid group were offered three choices: Train for suicide attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, for suicide attacks against Israelis or to assassinate British author Salman Rushdie.
It looked at first glance like a gathering on the fringes of a society divided between moderates who want better relations with the world and hard-line Muslim militants hostile toward the United States and Israel.
But the presence of two key figures – a prominent Iranian lawmaker and a member of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards – lent the meeting more legitimacy and was a clear indication of at least tacit support from some within Iran’s government.
Since that inaugural June meeting in a room decorated with photos of Israeli soldiers’ funerals, the registration forms for volunteer suicide commandos have appeared on Tehran’s streets and university campuses, with no sign Iran’s government is trying to stop the shadowy movement.
On Nov. 12, the day Iranians traditionally hold pro-Palestinian protests, a spokesman for the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement said the movement signed up at least 4,000 new volunteers.
Mohammad Ali Samadi, the spokesman, told The Associated Press the group had no ties to the government.
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Samadi claimed 30,000 volunteers have signed up, and 20,000 of them have been chosen for training. Volunteers had already carried out suicide operations against military targets inside Israel, he said.
But he said discussing attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq “will cause problems for the country’s foreign policy. It will have grave consequences for our country and our group. It’s confidential.”
Members of his group were simply fulfilling their religious obligations as laid out by Khomeini, he said.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters recently that the group’s campaign to sign up volunteers for suicide attacks had “nothing to do with the ruling Islamic establishment.”
“That some people do such a thing is the result of their sentiments. It has nothing to do with the government and the system,” Asefi said.
Yet despite the government’s disavowal of the group and some of its programs, there are indications the suicide attack campaign has at least some legitimacy within the government.
The first meeting was held in the offices of the Martyrs Foundation, a semiofficial organization that helps the families of those killed in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war or those killed fighting for the government on other fronts. It drew hard-line lawmaker Mahdi Kouchakzadeh and Gen. Hossein Salami of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
“This group spreads valuable ideas,” Kouchakzadeh told AP.
“At a time when the U.S. is committing the crimes we see now, deprived nations have no weapon other than martyrdom. It’s evident that Iran’s foreign policy makers have to take the dignified opinions of this group into consideration,” said Kouchakzadeh, who also is a former member of the Revolutionary Guards.
Iranian security officials did not return calls seeking comment about whether they had tried to crack down on the group’s training programs or whether they believed any of Samadi’s volunteers had crossed into Iraq or into Israel.