Photo: Tasnim News Agency

Iran Says It Thwarted 30 Islamic State Plots, Detained 28 Militants

Iranian authorities announced in a statement on Sunday, September 24, that its intelligence agency thwarted 30 bomb plots set to simultaneously hit multiple targets in the capital city of Tehran. According to the statement, the agency detained 28 individuals with links to the anti-Shia terrorist group the Islamic State (IS), also known as Daesh, the Arabic for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS).

The statement indicated that the militants were arrested with stashed weapons, suicide vests, and bombs during a string of operations on their hideouts in Tehran, Alborz, and West Azerbaijan provinces in recent days. Two Iranian security personnel also sustained injuries during the operations, it added.

Iranian authorities revealed that the militants had ties with takfiri groups—which view Shias as “apostates”—in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

According to the authorities, the terrorist plots were timed with the protests around the first death anniversary of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman, who died in custody in September 2022 allegedly for not wearing the compulsory headscarf properly. 

Her death sparked months of protests across Iran last year which were violently cracked down by the Iranian regime. Recently, Iran’s parliament approved a new bill to impose more severe punishments on its citizens, especially women, if they breached the country’s mandatory dress code.

The recent threat to Iran’s national security is not new. The Islamic State has executed numerous high-profile attacks, including the twin bombing in 2017 targeting the country’s parliament and mausoleum of Islamic Republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini, killing at least 12 people. In September of the following year, IS militants opened fire on a military parade in Ahvaz, claiming 29 lives.

Iran’s growing security concerns also pertain to threats from the Islamic State—Khorasan Province (ISKP), an affiliate of IS, which the U.N. says has increased its capabilities following the Taliban takeover in August 2021 to carry out terror attacks in the region, including in Iran.

Last month, several people were killed or wounded in an attack on Shah Cheragh, a major shrine in Iran’s southern Shiraz. Iran said the ISKP attackers were Afghan nationals. The shrine also came under attack late last year, which killed 15 people, claimed by ISIS militants, identified as nationals of Tajikistan.

Iranian authorities say they are seeking to crack down on a wider ISKP network in the country which maintains considerable ties to the group’s bases in Afghanistan.

Iran has been pressing the Taliban to rein in terrorist outfits that pose a threat to its national security. Although Tehran is expanding its diplomatic relations with Kabul, tensions remain between the two, especially on Helmand Water rights and the flow of narcotics into Iran from Afghanistan. Iran has also largely increased the deportation of Afghan refugees, a rollback of its more welcoming approach to refugees in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s return to power.

In Afghanistan, the ISKP remains capable of carrying out lethal and sophisticated attacks against civilians, particularly the Shia Hazaras. A Human Rights Watch report shows that at least 700 Hazaras were killed or injured in 13 separate ISKP attacks between August 2021 and September 2022.

The group has also carried out several high-profile attacks against the Taliban regime. Despite the ISKP’s capability to strike fear, the Taliban says it has significantly suppressed the group and killed its top leaders, a claim lauded by the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan.

Although figures show a decline in ISKP attacks in Afghanistan and an immediate threat to the West seems less likely, some U.S. military officials have warned of a “higher probability” of ISKP attacks against U.S. interests in Asia or Europe in the foreseeable future.

The destabilization also leverages the group for loose alliance building, better recruitment, planning and coordination of attacks, and expansion strategies which could not only result in security threats inside Afghanistan but also spillover effects into the region.