Iran is confronting a nightmare scenario with Islamic State militants just kilometers from the country’s western border and increasingly radical anti-Shia militants to the east in Pakistan.
A new militant Sunni terror group has recently been stepping up its activities in the Balochistan region in the Iran-Pakistan border. Balochistan, an impoverished region that has some 3 million residents. Iran has neglected the region and persecuted its residents, who are Sunni. This repression may be transforming the area to a fertile ground for terrorist organizations to move into Iranian territories.
A Balochistan Sunni movement the Justice Military recently carried out a series of attacks and assassinations against Iranian Border Guards and Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The Balochistan region, where there is increasing armed activity, stretches along the borders of three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Most of the area of the region is in Pakistan but a third of it is in Iran.
According to Iranian news sites, jihadist activists who are already operating in Balochistan expressed loyalty to the Islamice State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Two months ago, the Justice Military carried out a major operation in which it attacked an Iranian army base in the city of Saravan near the Pakistan border and killed four members of Iran’s security forces.
The Iranian army is trying to prevent penetration of ISIS-like groups into Iran and increased its activities in Balochistan including a military operation last week that left property damage in a local village, the Arab website “Al-Umma” reported.
The Justice Military, which began its operations in 2010, has carried out several attacks against Iranian forces including an attack in late 2013 that killed 14 Iranian border policemen. In response, Iran executed 16 Sunni prisoners from this province.
Amid recent worsening events, Iranian MP Hossein Ali Shariari warned the government over the Balochistan situation, calling the area “not safe” and warning of the fall of the region into the hands of ISIS, similar to what happened in Mosul in Iraq. The area where the the Justice Military is currently operating provides fertile ground for armed movements that take advantage of the mountainous topography that provides shelter for the militants.
Several Pakistan Taliban commanders have also declared their loyalty to ISIS, including former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid. There are reports of ISIS establishing an affiliate, Ansar-ul Daulat-e Islamia fil Pakistan, and luring recruits from two Sunni militant groups, Lashkar-e Jhangvi and Ahl-e Sunnat Wai Jamat.
Last year Iran executed 16 members of a similar group, Jundallah, and declared the Jundallah insurrection in Balochistan over. Jundallah, which had carried attacks on Iranian security forces, mixing Balochi nationalism with al-Qaeda style practices such as beheadings, reportedly has largely been absorbed into the Justice Military.