Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Iranian-Baluchi Insurgents Jundullah & Iranian State Media Respond to Leader 'Abdul Malik Rigi Capture (& the Politics of Naming "Terrorism")

UPDATE (8:15 p.m.): A fourth post-Rigi capture statement has been added to the embedded (updated) PDF.

Iranian state media is reporting that it captured 'Abdul Malik Rigi ('Abdolmalek Rigi), leader of the Iranian Baluchi insurgent-jihadi group Jundullah ("God's soldiers"), after its military forced a plane he was on to land in Iran during a flight from "an Arab country...from Pakistan." Jundullah has carried out a number of attacks on Iranian security forces, including a devastating terrorist attack in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan on October 18, 2009 that killed 42 people, including several senior commanders in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with defending "the revolution" of 1979 and its subsequent takeover by Grand Ayatullah al-Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni and his acolytes in the revolutionary Iranian Twelver Shi'i clergy ('ulama) and the Islamic Republican Party. Among those killed in October was General Nur (Nour) 'Ali Shushtari, the deputy commander of IRGC ground forces. The attack, which killed civilians, can be classified as a terrorist attack because it targeted or exhibited wanton disregard for the safety of civilians (the definition used here for terrorism). In November, Rigi penned letters to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, United States president Barack Obama, and Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The Iranian government, through its state media organs, has repeated its claims that Jundullah is backed by the United States, Great Britain, and Pakistan, and that it has "ties" to Al-Qa'ida Central (AQC). The main jihadi-takfiri web forums and sites have not embraced Jundullah and although cyber jihadi-takfiris celebrated the October attacks (as I wrote about HERE), the group's statement claiming them was relegated to news forums and not Bayyanat (official statements) forums. Nor have I found any artwork produced by cyber jihadi-takfiris for Jundullah. In some of its videos, Jundullah has used Arabic-language anasheed (singular: nasheed; religio-political songs) that were produced by transnational jihadi groups such as AQC. Jundullah's insurgency has also been heralded by Iranian Sunni extremists, such as those associated with the London-based Sons of Sunnah Iran blog, which I have written about HERE and HERE.

The Baluchi minority in Iran, which is largely Sunni Muslim, faces neglect and persecution by the Iranian government, as do many minority groups in the country, including Kurds, Arabs, and religious minorities such as the Baha'is.

British, U.S., and Pakistani intelligence services have of course supported groups abroad in the past, including insurgents. Although it is not inconceivable that some support from foreign states, such as through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, was given, the Iranian government's predictable charge of "foreign support," like the U.S. government's usual charge of "Iranian" involvement in every action taken by Twelver Shi'i groups opposed to its policies in the Middle East and wider Muslim world, makes it less likely that its charges will be believed. Think of the "boy who cried wolf" story here.

The Iranian government has frequently alleged foreign support for the large numbers of its own citizens (who it has violently suppressed) who have demonstrated for increased rights as citizens and government transparency, and additionally for a loosening of an authoritarian system that cloaks itself in Islam and "divine" sanction. Successive Iranian governments, of course, have also supported groups abroad, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab Gulf states, the occupied Palestinian Territories, Africa, and Lebanon. It is also accused of carrying out, with its Lebanese ally, Hizbullah, the 1992 vehicle bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992 and a massive terrorist attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, a jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in 1994.

The Iranian government has alleged that Rigi was "on an American military base" in Afghanistan 24 hours before his capture, though it offered little evidence in public, besides a generic photograph, to bolster its claim. In addition, the Iranian regime has blamed Dubai for helping facilitate Rigi's movements and, of course, "the Zionists." It's a contest between the Iranian and Israeli governments to see how often they can blame almost everything they don't like on one another. The use of the term "terrorism" and its related terms, as exemplified in the Iranian government's statements on the capture (or U.S. government allegations about almost all Shi'i groups), once again show the political selectivity of labeling groups, individuals, and actions as "terrorist/terrorism;" governments call violence they do not like or see as legitimate "terrorism," regardless of the target (military vs. civilian).

Embedded below, via Scribd are three releases from Jundullah following Rigi's reported capture. After is an embedded video clip on the capture aired on the government-connected Fars News Agency in Iran. I verified with a friend who is a native speaker/reader of Persian that the releases are in Persian (Farsi dialect) and not Baluchi. Whatever my intermediate Persian knowledge was, it is quite atrophied after years of disuse (and after a decision that Arabic is more important for my research), though I think they say in one statement that the Baluchi resistance to Iranian government persecution will continue and is not linked to one individual ('Abdul Malik Rigi).

Jundullah (Post-Rigi Capture)


Alexander said...

While it's true that the Iranian government blames nearly every problem it faces on outsiders, and it's possible that it exaggerated or fabricated entirely its claim that Rigi was on an American base just before his capture, all of Iran's "crying wolf" shouldn't detract from the fact that U.S. support for Jundullah in recent years is very well documented by independent sources, mostly mainstream American journalists. I provided links to the most damning evidence of U.S. support in my post on Jundullah's October 2009 terrorist attacks in Iran. After those attacks, the U.S. claims it ended support for opposition groups in Iran (personally, I don't believe that for one second), though the U.S. State Department still does not recognize Jundullah as a terrorist organization. (By comparison, and to your point about the subjective and political nature of such labeling, the State Department designates the Lebanese Hizbullah as a terrorist organization).

Also, interesting to note: at least three of the commenters on the Jundullah statement identify themselves as Kurds, and one of them claims to be a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran - though he spelled the name wrong!

إبن الصقلي said...

I'm not sure we disagree fundamentally on most of the issues involved. My point was not so much to weigh in on whether or not the claims are true or nor (or partly true, but exaggerated, which is closer to what I hink) as to address the frequent "crying wolf" by both the Iranian and U.S. governments. Eventually, people stop listening to you, whether or not you're telling the truth, and to a large degree, it's your own fault. I also think many of the claims in such cases are wildly exaggerated. In the same way that I argue there would have been a Hizbullah without Iranian and Syrian patronage due to the conditions of Lebanon in the 1980s, there would be some sort of Iranian Baluchi movement due to existing conditions. This is true for the Kurds, Arabs, and other groups as well, as it is in many other countries, including in the U.S. with the right-wing militias. Foreign powers, I would argue, can try and exert influence over indigenous resistance/paramilitary/protest movements but usually cannot "control" them outright. I also disagree with the "NAME OF TWELVER SHI'I GROUP HERE" is a "proxy" of Iran claim that is so often parroted by media outlets, pundits, and gov't people.

Further, my comment about the subjective labeling of terrorism was directed not just at Iran, but also at the U.S. government and, in fact, all governments (and really all groups, as Al-Qa'ida calls violence it views as illegitimate "terrorism" too).

As for the comments, this is why I posted the texts, for people who can make ready use of them (and whose Persian is not atrophied). I would encourage you to write a post about them.

Alexander said...

Naturally I agree that Iran's disingenuous claims, and exaggeration of otherwise legitimate grievances, have only hurt its case. I also agree that Iranian state neglect and mistreatment of minorities such as the Baluchis would have produced an ethnic rights movement without any foreign interference. However, foreign interference has notably shaped that movement. If the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan had not created a paradigm (especially after 1979) of rewarding violently sectarian Sunni Islamist groups that employed terrorist tactics with patronage and support, while marginalizing or directly attacking secular, leftist, and/or nonsectarian groups, then organizations like Jundullah would most likely have remained marginal or perhaps never even emerged. For that reason, I think we can blame Iran for creating the conditions for Baluchi insurgence, but we must also blame the US-Saudi-Pakistani axis for creating the conditions for violent "jihadi" sectarian terroristic Baluchi insurgence.

I don't feel I have the knowledge to make an intelligent post about the documents you posted (the depth of my analysis does not go much further than "ha ha, Jundullah sympathizers misspelled 'democratic,' how appropriate!") but when I get some free time I can try to translate them for you, if you'd like.

إبن الصقلي said...

Muhammad Qasim Zaman has written an interesting article (and its in his book on the 'ulama in contemporary Islam) about how Saudi and Iranian rivalry radicalized Sunni & Shi'i identities in Pakistan in the 1980s.

Your offer is a kind one, but don't worry about it. I would encourage you, if you wish, to run summaries on your blog. I can e-mail you the PDF if you like.

Alexander said...

I'll have to keep an eye out for Zaman's book - I found the article of his that you posted ("Sectarianism in Pakistan: The Radicalization of Shi'i and Sunni Identities") very insightful. It gave me a greater context to understand the extremely annoying Pakistani Shi'a who seem to extend the concept of `ismah to the entire Iranian government...they really get on my nerves.

If you could email me the PDF, I'll post about it when I get a chance. My offer stands if you ever need any Persian translations. It's good practice for me, and the knuckleheads who make those kinds of comments online are rarely eloquent, so it's not a great challenge to translate them.

Alexander said...

Press TV: Abdolmalek Rigi's alleged confession includes claim of U.S. support.

إبن الصقلي said...

As always, thanks for the additional (new) information.

I just wrote a comment on Twitter (a general one) that it's rather sad that since the Iranian gov't tortures even non-violent prisoner-dissidents, even the confessions of an insurgent who has planned terrorist attacks is potentially suspect.

The LA TIMES remarked that the confession seemed "read"; what is your view?

Note: this should be read as a general comment and not necessarily as a refutation of the "confession" or possibilities of foreign support. IRI stalwart friends have said I'm being too cynical, to which I've responded cynicism works two ways.

Alexander said...

I agree; there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the U.S. supported Jundullah, but regardless I bet the IRI carefully planned the language they wanted Rigi to use in his confession and then had him memorize or read it.

إبن الصقلي said...

I read a short editorial today, Iranian Government Contradicts Itself re: U.S. Support for Jundullah, Beginning Date , in which the author notes that the dates given by 'Abdul Malik and his brother about the beginning of the alleged U.S. government support for their group differ. The editorial was on a blog affiliated with The Long War Journal, which, as you may know, is an American right publication. The piece was run on its Threat Matrix blog, not the main LWJ site.

Note that I am not nearly as sceptical of the possibilities of U.S. and/or Pakistani gov't support or acquiescence to Jundullah. However, if accurate, I think it's an interesting and valid point for discussion.

Alexander said...

I don't see the contradiction. It's known that the U.S. was providing support to Jundullah since at least as early as 2005 under the Bush administration, but the question is whether Obama continued that support or ended it. Rigi claims that the U.S. contacted him offering support, including providing a base in Afghanistan, after the Obama election. He did not say that this was the first time Jundullah was contacted by the U.S., and in fact I have not seen any Iranian sources claiming that. If the U.S. did continue support after Obama's election, it would make sense for them to reach out to Jundullah, as the Obama administration similarly reached out to other foreign allies or partners of the U.S. (such as Israel) to assure them that the relationship they enjoyed with the U.S. under Bush would not change under Obama. I believe Rigi (or, more likely, the Iranian government) made a point of mentioning that the contact took place after the Obama election specifically to demonstrate that U.S. policy towards Iran had not changed since the election.

Again, the LWJ is grasping at straws; there is no contradiction between saying that the U.S. supported Jundullah since 2005 and that the U.S. reached out to them again after 2008 and made them additional offers. If they can find an Iranian source claiming that the support began after 2008, then that would contradict Iran's earlier claims, but I don't think Iran has made any such contradiction.

إبن الصقلي said...

Fair enough. My basic point wasn't to endorse the LWJ editor's argument. Rather, it was to highlight that the Iranian government, to a degree, has made the credibility of such "confessions" questionable due to its own actions.

In the same way that one can question U.S. absolute denials of support or acquiescence of Jundullah, one can question the validity of all the claims being made by the Iranian government, and Rigi in his "confession" (which, despite any truth in it, I don't believe for a moment was delivered of his own free will or without some "encouragement"). Both governments have, of course, supported insurgent and other armed groups in various countries, including as you know those who have carried out terrorist attacks (defined here as targeting civilians or with wanton disregard to noncombatant casualties). In short, I believe both governments are playing short and fast with the actual truth, both in their denials and their allegations.

In any case, I think I've written enough, particularly when our two positions aren't, I think, canyons apart. Off to bed I am.

إبن الصقلي said...

Oh, also not an endorsement but shared for informational purposes:

NY Times, The Lede blog