Iran silently recruiting Pakistani Shiites to fight in Syria: Reports

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Iran recruits Pakistani ‘volunteers’ for its Zainebiyoun Brigade. (Photo courtesy Zainabiyoun division Twitter account)
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Updated 24 September 2017

Iran silently recruiting Pakistani Shiites to fight in Syria: Reports

ISLAMABAD: Three months ago, the Pakistani city of Parachinar experienced its third deadly attack so far this year by Daesh-linked militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami (LeJ), which said the assault was in response to support for Iranian-backed militias in Syria.
“This is propaganda,” Ali Afzal, a journalist and resident of Parachinar, told Arab News. “There’s no (Shiite) recruitment happening. That’s all in Iran, not here. This place has a strong army presence, with security surveillance around the clock. We border Afghanistan, and it’s unlikely that a recruiter would walk in and take people from here to Iran. Do you know how many checkpoints he’d need to cross?”
But a suicide bomber did enter the city, killing more than 70 people. Fourteen suspects were arrested by Pakistani security forces, while the mastermind is still at large.
LeJ warned the local Shiite community of “dire consequences” if it did not stop tainting its hands with the blood of Daesh fighters in Syria. This led to widespread reports that agents of Iran are discreetly recruiting Pakistani Shiites.
It is hard to ascertain the authenticity of these reports, since Pakistani officials are silent over the issue.
“Iran is recruiting from wherever it can,” said Maj. Ashfaq Hussain Bukhari, a retired army officer who is in charge of Markazi Imambargha (the Shiite Congregation Center) in Islamabad.
“It targets impoverished or fanatic Shiites, preying on their sentiments and offering martyrdom in defense of Shiite holy sites.”
Bukhari said the Pakistani areas of Iranian interest to draft men are the southern parts of Punjab province, the port city of Karachi, the tribal belt and Baluchistan province.
Numerous social media platforms list Pakistani Shiite fighters in Syria, including their name, photo, hometown and father’s name, as a way to eulogize their devotion.
Pakistan’s Shiites comprise 5-20 percent of the country’s total population of 207 million, but the minority says it constitutes around 40 percent.
According to media reports citing unnamed Pakistani officials, Pakistani recruits — referred to as “volunteers” — are inducted into the Zainebiyoun Brigade.
They are offered up to $1,000 per month by emissaries operating undercover to avoid detection by the country’s spy and security agencies.
Since the brigade’s alleged inception in 2014, the number of Pakistani Shiites killed in Syria has spiked.
Last year, 39 Shiite fighters disguised as pilgrims were apprehended by security forces at the Taftan crossing on the Pakistan-Iran border, including some from Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, said a Pakistani defense official. They were suspected of having links to the Zainebiyoun Brigade.
In February, a Pakistani coastal patrol arrested 13 suspects, including three Iranians, in boats illegally trying to enter Pakistani waters near Baluchistan, said Interior Ministry official Muhammad Abdullah Khalid.
Interrogation revealed that they were tasked with transporting fresh recruits from Pakistan to Syria.
Police arrested “two Shiite fighters recruited via Zainebiyoun” in March 2016 after their return to Quetta from Syria, Khalid added.
Adding to the mystery surrounding Islamabad’s silence, Defense Ministry sources told Arab News: “If this information (that Pakistanis are being recruited) is of public interest, we’ll give a response.”
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), a federal agency that coordinates between all security departments, declined to comment.
An Interior Ministry source told Arab News that he is unawareness of Iranian-backed militias recruiting Pakistanis, saying: “It’s the first time I’ve heard of this.”
But security officials told Arab News that the lack of comment is due to the highly sensitive nature of the matter, which they fear could fan sectarian violence. There is only private acknowledgement.


Finding homes in ruin, destitute Iraqis return to camps

Updated 25 August 2019

Finding homes in ruin, destitute Iraqis return to camps

  • Across Iraq, more than 1.6 million people remain displaced, among them nearly 300,000 from Mosul alone, according to the International Organization for Migration

AL-KHAZER/IRAQ: Her tent is bare, she is unemployed and her family relies on food donations. But Nihaya Issa was forced to pick an Iraqi camp over the unlivable ruins of her native city Mosul.

The northern city was freed from Daesh’s grip more than two years ago, but tens of thousands of Iraqis who fled Mosul into sprawling displacement camps have yet to move back home. Many, like Issa, say they tried returning but were shocked by what they saw.

“When I went back to Mosul I didn’t find my house. It was destroyed,” said Issa, speaking from her stuffy tent in the Khazer camp about 30 km east of Mosul.

“I also couldn’t afford renting a house, so I came back to this camp again,” she told AFP, clapping her hands in exasperation.

Dark circles have formed under her eyes, and the widow and mother of eight girls said she and her children “live a tough life” in Khazer. But the 33-year-old feels she has little choice.

“We stay in the camp because of the food rations we get every 30 to 40 days,” she admitted.

Across Iraq, more than 1.6 million people remain displaced, among them nearly 300,000 from Mosul alone, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

They are spread out across a handful of displacement camps in the broader Nineveh province that have developed into full-fledged tent cities.

Amenities provided by NGOs include schools and training centers, health clinics and shops, football fields and hair salons — all mostly unavailable in Mosul and other towns ravaged by Daesh and the ensuing fighting.

Ghazwan Hussein, 26, hails from Sinjar, a region west of Mosul that was overrun by Daesh five years ago as it waged a brutal campaign against the district’s Yazidi minority.

The father of four fled the region to the Khazer camp, where he eked out a living until his son fell ill a few months ago. He sold his meager belongings in the camp to afford the required surgery and tried to return to Sinjar.

“I found that my house was unlivable. It was demolished and the area didn’t have basic services,” said Hussein, his toddler perched quietly on his lap outside their tent.

“I couldn’t stay and came back to Khazer once again.”

Only a sliver of Sinjar’s native population of 500,000 Yazidis has returned, with the rest saying persistent destruction, the lack of services and the tense security situation have kept them in camps.

Hussein said the Iraqi government should speed up reconstruction efforts and compensate displaced citizens.

“Does it make sense to keep us in the camp without work for three years, as if in jail?” he asked.

“We just eat, sleep, and live on food baskets without any hope the situation will improve so we can go home.” Mosul’s migration office said up to 25 families a day are leaving their destroyed homes to return to displacement camps to access better services.

“For the past 18 months, we have also seen ‘reverse migration’ back to the camps or to the Kurdish region,” said office head Khaled Ismail.

“The reasons for reverse displacement are varied according to the regions: It might be tied to the security situation, the family’s financial conditions or the fact that their destroyed homes are unsuitable for living.”

According to the migration office, about 72,000 families have returned to Nineveh since the fighting against Daesh ended two years ago.

Many are returning to the eastern side of Mosul, which was left more intact when fighting ended and where returning residents find restaurants and shops reopening.

But across the Tigris River in the Old City, mountains of rubble still seal off many streets and unexploded ordnance, rocket remnants, and even decomposing bodies lie under ruined homes.

For the most desperate families, those ruins will have to do.

IOM says nearly 30,000 returnees in Mosul are living in vulnerable conditions including destroyed homes, schools and other public buildings — the highest number of any location in Iraq.

Shaking from a medical condition, Sabiha Jassem made her way through her tiny home, the grimy walls dotted with bullet holes and flies.

She and her children could not afford to pay rent in east Mosul and returned to their home in the ravaged Old City.

“This house is a danger to us — its roof and walls could collapse. But we’re poor and have no other solution but to live in it,” said Jassem, 61.

“This is not a life we are living here.”