Iran drafts Shias for As­sad

Sunday Tribune - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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