Iranian security authorities and heads of the regime in Tehran are in a quiet panic over the shock explosion at the Seyyed Al-Shohada mosque of the southern city of Shiraz on April 12. It was the bloodiest terrorist attack on a civilian target the Islamic Republic has seen in recent years. The official casualty toll was a dozen dead and 202 injured. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources report figures were higher – more in the vicinity of scores dead and hundreds injured.
That no organization has come forward to claim the attack has done nothing to settle Iranian nerves. Indeed, according to our sources, it has fueled their suspicion that they are facing a new, complicated conspiracy against their republic – hatched, they believe, by “Wahhabis” hand in glove with US intelligence.
Wahhabism is the austere brand of Sunni Islam which is the state religion of Saudi Arabia. Tehran fears that powerful radical Saudi clerics, after switching their allegiance from al Qaeda to the Saudi throne, are on the warpath against Iran’s Islamic revolution and the Shiite brand of Islam at large.
The regime in Tehran is anxious to contain the damage the real nature of the Shiraz bombing could cause its public image if brought to light. Therefore, Col. Ali Moayyedi, security chief of the Fars province, of which Shiraz is the provincial government seat, and Mohammad-Reza Reza-Zadeh, chairman of the Shiraz district executive council, put out the story that the attack was not terror-related but caused by the accidental detonation of ammunition in the mosque.
But he was quickly contradicted by Hojjat-ol-Eslam Mohammad Anjavi-Nejad, who was conducting rites in the mosque when the blast occurred. He insisted a bomb had been planted in the mosque. His assistants backed him up by describing an extremely powerful explosive planted in a Samsonite suitcase.
A Shiite group which condemns Wahhabis and Bahais to death
Those rites were attended by members of an ultra-radical group called Rah-Pouyan-e Vesal-Shiraz founded by Anjavi-Nejad, whose 800 members, boys and girls, go around the city telling people it is their duty to kill Wahhabis and members of the Bahai faith. They have been brainwashed to practice what they preach.
Their leader cites some Saudi clerics as responsible for a fatwa for killing Shiite Muslims because “they are worse than Jews.” The Fars province has the largest Bahai community in Iran. These believers in the unity of mankind have suffered cruel persecution and horrific murders since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the presidency.
Tit-for-tat Sunni-Shiite persecutions and murders have been commonplace in the Muslim world for 1400 years. But a new, epic outbreak appears to have flared, gaining in violence in many Muslim countries since the Shiites assumed power in Tehran.
In Pakistan, for instance, the annual Ashura ritual of self-flagellating men in procession has touched off clashes in recent years that leave many dead on both sides. Iraq’s sectarian warfare has its roots in this historic conflict. The rise of al Qaeda has aggravated sectarian hostility.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have both issued fatwas condemning Shiite Muslims for death, as collaborators of America and “Western infidels.”
They were not deterred by Iran granting some senior al Qaeda operatives sanctuary, or by Tehran handing out weapons and money to Sunni insurgents tied to al Qaeda to encourage them to fight American soldiers. Al Qaeda’s planners were perfectly willing to abet Tehran in its game of building up domestic popular dissent against the Iraq war to force the Bush administration to pull US troops out of the country. Iran would then fill the vacuum.
The Shiite-Sunni front has gained fresh momentum in recent months.
Those Saudi clerical leaders, who are no less extremist for having defected from al Qaeda, have determined that good Muslims must set their ideological sights against the Shiite adversary, especially now that the Shiite enemy is within reach of a nuclear bomb, arming the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah with the finest weapons in its armory and courting the Sunni fundamentalist Hamas, long Riyadh’s Palestinian protege.
The “Sunni League of Iran” in first act of terror
The leaflets telling the Sunni faithful to go and kill Shiites, circulating for some months in the kingdom, have turned up in the most sensitive parts of Iran: the Arab-speaking, oil-rich Khuzestan province of southwestern Iran and the predominantly Sunni Kurdish regions in the west.
Iranian security officials again point the finger at Saudi Arabia, although wary of making public allegations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources have discovered an underground Sunni organization calling itself the “Sunni League of Iran,” which acts as a sort of umbrella for all the clandestine Sunni bodies operating among the restive Khuzistanis, Balochis and Kurds of Iran.
Until now, this covert group engaged only in propaganda and fund-raising. Responsible Iranian officials are convinced the Sunni League went into action and carried out its first terrorist operation in Shiraz after being contacted by Saudi spy networks working under cover in Iran.
The government in Tehran has managed to keep the almost daily incidence of armed Balochi raids on Iranian security forces under wraps. The Shiraz explosion is a new departure in the domestic unrest against the regime. It is giving Iran’s rulers sleepless nights because this first act of violence in an important city suggests that radical Saudi Wahhabi and Salafi elements have joined forces with Washington to establish a base of subversive operations in the Fars province. If that is so, more terrorism is in store for Iran’s urban centers.