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Iran recruits Afghan, Pakistani Shiites to fight in Syria

Iran recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to fight in Syria
Thousands of Shiites from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, Daily mail reported om Saturday.

These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counterterrorism officials in both countries worry about the mayhem they might cause when they return home to countries already wrestling with a major militant problem.



Amir Toumaj, Iran research analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the number of fighters is fluid but as many as 6,000 Afghans are fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.




A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said recruits are also coming from northern Gilgit and Baltistan. 


Recruiters are often Shiite clerics with ties to Iran, some of whom have studied in seminaries in Iran's Qom and Mashhad cities, said a second Pakistani official, who also spoke on condition he isn't  identified because he still operates in the area and exposing his identity would endanger him.


Yet fighters sign up for many reasons.


Some are inspired to go to Syria to protect sites considered holy to Shiite Muslims, like the shrine honouring Sayyida Zainab, the granddaughter of Islam's Prophet Muhammed. 


Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the shrine was attacked by Syrian rebels in 2013. 


Others sign up for the monthly stipend and the promise of a house. For those recruited from among the more than 1 million Afghan refugees still living in Iran, it's often the promise of permanent residence in Iran. 


For Shiites in Pakistan's Parachinar, it is outrage at the relentless attacks by Sunni militants that drive them to sign up for battle in Syria, said Toumaj.


Mir Hussain Naseri, a member of Afghanistan's Shiite clerics' council, said Shiites are obligated to protect religious shrines in both Iraq and Syria.
"Afghans are going to Syria to protect the holy places against attacks by Daesh," he said. "Daesh is the enemy of Shias."


Ehsan Ghani, chief of Pakistan's Counterterrorism Authority, said that his organization is sifting through hundreds of documents, including immigration files, to put a figure on the numbers of Pakistanis fighting on both sides of the many Middle East conflicts, including Syria. But it's a cumbersome process.



There is a potential of Iran getting more involved in Afghanistan using militia because Iran is going to be really concerned about security on its border and it would make sense to use a proxy force.

Pakistan too has an uneasy relationship with Iran. On occasion the anti-Iranian Jandullah militant group has launched attacks against Iranian border guards from Baluchistan province. In June, Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone deep inside its territory.

In Pakistan the worry is that returning fighters, including those who had fought on the side of IS, could start another round of sectarian bloodletting.


Last Modified: Saturday، 16 September 2017 05:33 PM
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