Dr Akram Umarov, policy analyst”from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He received PhD Degree in International Relations at the University of World Economy and Diplomacy.
Iran has been facing a number of bloody terrorist attacks in recent years. Sistan-Baluchestan and to a lesser extent the Khuzestan province of Iran have been the epicentrum of most terrorist activities for a long period.
The attacks are continuing. On February 13, 2019, a suicide attack on a bus carrying members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the Khash-Zahedan road killed 27 people and wounded 13 others . The terrorist group Jaish ul-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility for the attack .
In this article, I briefly analyze the recent terrorist attacks and their perpetrators, the internal and external factors influencing the increase of the terrorist activity and in Iran, with primary attention paid to the provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan and Khuzestan.
The Recent Attacks
For many years most terrorist acts occurred in Sistan-Baluchestan province. The most “famous” radical groups concentrated in this area, including “Jundallah” (Soldiers of God), “Jaish ul-Adl” (Army of Justice), “Harakat Ansar Iran” (Movement of the Partisans of Iran), and “Hizbul-Furqan” (Party of the Two) which merged in 2013 and formed the united group named “Ansar Al-Furqan” (Partisans of the Criterion) .
The most active and well known of these groups has been “Jundallah” with its leader Abdolmalek Rigi. It was responsible for dozens of attacks, predominantly on Iranian Revolutionary Guards and police officers that claimed scores of victims during 2003-2010 . According to Iranian officials, Abdolmalek Rigi was captured in 2010 during his trip from Dubai to one of the Central Asian states. His plane was forced to land by the Iranian air force in Bandar Abbas and the security forces arrested him together with his companion .
After the capture of its leader, the radical group carried out several attacks in Zahedan and Chabahar . Later the group’s members joined other newly established terrorist groups and continued their activities.
“Jaish ul-Adl” claimed responsibility for the attack on the Khash-Zahedan road in February 2019 and it has become the strongest among the groups emerging from the dissolution of “Jundallah”. The group’s members killed 14 Iranian border guards in October 2013  and abducted five Iranian soldiers (four of them were freed later and one was killed) in April 2014 . In April 2017, nine Iranian border guards were killed and two others injured in clashes with “Jaish ul-Adl” near the Iranian town of Mirjaveh . In October 2018, it kidnapped 11 Iranian border guards, later five were returned and six were held .
An ally of “Jaish ul-Adl”, the “Ansar Al-Furqan” terrorist group, executed a suicide car attack on a police headquarters in the southeastern Iranian port city of Chabahar in December 2018, killing at least four people and wounding several others . In June 2017, this group also clashed with Iranian security forces in Chabahar .
The second most liable Iranian province to terrorist activity is Khuzestan. On the 22nd of September, 2018 gunmen disguised as Iranian army personnel attacked a military parade in Ahvaz, the administrative center of Khuzestan, killing 29 and wounding dozens of people, including members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . The radical group “Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz” claimed responsibility for these shootings and this was disputed by Daesh, which claimed its own responsibility for the attack . The group also killed two members of the Revolutionary Guards in January 2017 in Khuzestan province and has claimed it has blown up several oil pipelines in Khuzestan in recent years .
Iran views Daesh as a direct threat to Iranian national interests and territory, due to its anti-Shi’a ideology and proximity to the Iranian border . In July 2016, Iranian officials announced they had prevented 1,500 Iranians from joining Daesh and frustrated terrorist plans to attack 50 different targets in Tehran .
The only proven attack of Daesh on Iranian territory came in June 2017. Armed assailants organized brazen attacks on the Iranian Parliament and the mausoleum of the country’s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. 17 were killed and 50 injured . This attack shocked both officials and ordinary citizens because it was unexpected, brash, and claimed a high number of victims during assaults on national symbols – the National Parliament and the sacred monument of the founder of the Iranian Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iran has been facing economic challenges and problems in recent years due to the long-lasting confrontation with the USA, the EU and some neighboring countries on the nuclear program and regional policy in the Middle East. The economic growth rate of Iran abated to 3.8 percent as oil exports decreased and the fiscal deficit reached 1.8 percent in 2017-2018. According to the World Bank’s prognosis, the Iranian economy is expected to be negatively affected by US sanctions, contracting annually by 1.4 percent between 2018/19 to 2020/21 on average. In addition, by August 2018 the youth (15-24 years) unemployment rate had risen to 28.3 percent. 
The poverty rate in Sistan-Baluchestan was 38 percent in 2016-2017, compared to 12 percent in Tehran . Because of the worsening economic situation, in December 2017, large-scale demonstrations started in Mashhad and then extended to about 50 cities and towns, involving thousands of people, including in the capital Tehran . These pressing economic problems could negatively influence young people, increasing the risks of their radicalization and joining terrorist groups.
Daesh has been trying to expand its presence and ideology on the Iranian territory using these economic problems. It began to produce video messages in Persian  to achieve broader distribution and find new followers in Iran. The group also published several issues of its online publication Rumiyah in Persian . However, the decline in the activities of Daesh and reduction of the territory under its control in Syria and Iraq together with large-scale anti-terrorist measures of the Iranian law enforcement agencies complicated its broad expansion on the Iranian territory.
The regional policy of Iran, with its active involvement in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, has strained relationships with many regional powers, while confrontation with the USA has resumed. These factors are influencing the rise of the terrorist activity of different groups on Iranian territory. The active presence of the Iranian military forces in Syria to support Bashar al-Assad’s army in conflict with Daesh and other radical groups impels them to seek revenge in Iran. They may try to support the activities of local terrorist groups in Iran and increase assaults on representatives of the Iranian armed forces and officials. For example, Daesh encourages its followers to mount attacks intended to avenge Tehran’s offensive against the group across the Middle East .
The rising struggle between Iran and other regional powers for influence in the Middle East might lead to the extension of hotspots in the region, which could in turn result in the destabilization of vast territories. These conflicts stimulate the emergence of new terrorist groups and attract various other radical organizations. This tendency results in the collapse of the existing regional order, the overall rise of terrorist activity and expansion of the presence of radical groups in different parts of the Middle East, including Iran.
The analysis demonstrates the tangible rise of radicalization and terrorist activity in Iran in recent years. However, completed terrorist attacks are mostly limited to the two vulnerable Iranian provinces of Sistan-Baluchestan and Khuzestan. The existing socio-economic problems, the dominant non-Persian population with less participation and representation in the country’s political and economic processes, and the lengthy common borders with Pakistan (Sistan-Baluchestan) and Iraq (Khuzestan) aid the mobility of terrorist groups and stimulate radicalization among the youth, with some joining the groups. The primary objectives of almost all terrorist attacks have been the representatives of Iranian law enforcement agencies and armed forces: the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, border guards, police forces, Basij militias, and others.
The continuing economic problems, the growing confrontation with the USA and several regional powers, and sanctions complicate the ability of Tehran to counter radicalization tendencies in its provinces. Further deterioration of regional security in the Middle East could influence radicalization tendencies and terrorist activity in Iran.
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