Iran drafts Shias for Assad
ISLAMABAD: Thousands of Shia Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-assad’s forces in Syria.
They are being lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 (R8 000) 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 Defence of Democracies, said the number of fighters was fluid but as many as 6 000 Afghans were fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.
In Afghanistan, stepped-up attacks on minority Shia claimed by the Islamic State 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.
“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. Islamic State “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife”.
Shias in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shia mosques in the Afghan capital were barely a third full.
Mohammed Naim, a Shia restaurant owner in Kabul issued a plea to Iran: “Please don’t send the poor Afghan Shia refugees to fight in Syria because then Daesh attacks directly on Shias,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
Islamic State has claimed several brutal attacks on Pakistan’s Shia community. – AP