Iran recruits Pak, Afghan Shias to fight war in Syria
Thousands of Shia Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar alAssad’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, say counter-terrorism officials and analysts.
These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counter-terrorism 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 US-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.
In Afghanistan, steppedup attacks on minority Shia claimed by the upstart Islamic State group affiliate known as Islamic State in the Khorasan Province could be payback against Afghan Shia in Syria fighting under the banner of the Fatimayoun Brigade, Toumaj said. Khorasan is an ancient name for an area that included parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.
“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. IS “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife.”
Shia in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shiite mosques in the Afghan capital, including the largest, Ibrahim Khalil mosque, were barely a third full.
Shias are being lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and possibility of employment in Iran