Officials of the Iranian regime's network of groups in Britain have called upon British Shi'ites to join the jihad against Sunni Islamist forces in Iraq.
The Ahlul Bayt Islamic Mission [AIM], one of the most prominent Shi'ite organizations in Britain, has published on its website an "Urgent Call," which states:
"We must be ready to sacrifice, leave everything behind us and run for the defense of truth and its supporters, representatives, and relics. The Jihad ul Asghar (minor jihad) must also be accompanied by Jihad ul Akbar (bigger jihad) so that we prepare ourselves spiritually and deserve the honor of defending Islam. Every man must be ready to join the armed forces and every woman must urge the male members of her family to go seek this noble cause and do anything she can to serve this cause ... May Allah (SWT) enable us to put our words into actions and to defend Islam and its principles till our last breathe and drop of blood!"
Thus far, only Britain's Sunni Muslims are known to have joined the fighting in Syria and Iraq, where many have already signed up with ISIS.
In June, however, a Shi'ite Muslim living in London told the Guardian, "There are a lot of youth talking about [going out to Iraq] ... A lot of people [in the UK] are willing to defend Karbala. And to be honest with you, if my son was of a much older age and he turned around to me and said, 'Look, I want to go and fight,' I'd send him on his way."
It appears that some British Shi'ites are also willing to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for Iranian-backed groups against ISIS and other Sunni Islamist groups.
AIM is a privately-funded group based in London and is the UK branch of the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly, an Iranian Shi'ite clerical organization. The Ahlul Bayt World Assembly is managed by Muhammad Hassan Akhtari, a leading Iranian cleric and one of the founders of the Lebanese terrorist group, Hezbollah.
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Ahlul Bayt's "activities are directed by the office of the [Iranian] Supreme Leader Khamenei."
Speakers at events organized by AIM regularly include officials tied to the Iranian regime, such as Mohammad Ali Shomali, a prominent Shi'ite cleric who runs the Department of Religions at the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute in Iran.
Senior AIM officials, meanwhile, include Samir Al-Haidari, who also works for the Imam Khomeini Education and Research Institute. Al-Haidari, in an interview with an Iranian regime website, voiced support for Khomeini's fatwa ordering the murder of the author Salman Rushdie, stating that Khomeini "courageously and bravely defended Islam."
In 2003, Parto-Sokhan, the official publication of the Imam Khomeini Institute (for which Shomali and Haidari both work), ran advertisements that are reported to have recruited an estimated 55,000 young Iranians for the Iranian regime's suicide-bomber brigade, deployed inside Iraq.
More notably, Al-Haidari has also propagated material published by Liwa'a Abu Fadl al-Abbas [LAFA], an Iranian-run "international brigade," comprising foreign Shi'ite fighters.
Other officials within Iranian-aligned groups, such as Shabbir Hassanally, have also promoted LAFA and propagated Shi'ite jihadist videos, which feature such lyrics as "death does not matter – in fact, we search for it."
Evidently, Iran's attempts to recruit Shi'ite jihadists are part of a global effort.
AIM's call to arms made reference to a fatwa issued by the Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, which called on Iraqi Shi'ites to fight the aggression of ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
As reports surfaced that British Shi'ite Muslims were making travel arrangements, however, a British Shi'ite cleric, Fadhil al-Milani, warned British Shi'ites that Sistani's appeal applied only to Iraqis.
Why, then, are the Iranian regime and British groups under its control trying to recruit British Shi'ites when some Shi'ite clerics have forbidden it?
Broadly, the British Shi'ite community is divided between, on the one hand, those who subscribe to Ayatollah Sistani and the Iraqi Shia school of thought, which has discouraged British Shi'ites from joining the fight; and on the other hand, those aligned with the Iranian regime, which is determined to recruit Shi'ite jihadists from across the world.
The line separating these two groups, however, is a blurry one. The author Innes Bowen notes, in her book Inside British Islam, that British Shi'ites devoted to Sistani may still harbor political affiliations with the Iranian regime.
The Iranian authorities, then, rather than alienate sections of the Iranian diaspora by openly contradicting Sistani's rulings, have sought instead to misrepresent Sistani's pronouncements for the benefit of the regime. After Sistani's call for only Iraqi Shi'ites to take up arms, Iranian regime mouthpieces appropriated and distorted the ruling. AIM's appeal, for example, stated: "The call of grand Ayatullah Sistani applies to all believers and not only the Muqaledeen [followers] of his Eminence [Ayatollah Sistani] as the cause he is calling for is for the safety of Islam and the Muslims and our sacred mausoleums."
AIM was not the only British Iranian group to stoke up the flames. On June 23, Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi issued a fatwa calling for jihad. Shirazi's statement expressed praise for the Iraqi Shi'ite clergy, but conversely, as described by Al-Monitor, also called for "a general mobilization of all Shi'ites in the world urging them to form armed forces along with the Iraqi army, which implies the promotion of militias."
Shirazi maintains an office in Britain that exists under the guise of a charity named International Islamic Link, which has in the past received taxpayer funding.
Iranian dissidents are not surprised that Iran is attempting to recruit Western Shi'ites. Hossein Abedini, from the National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed to the Gatestone Institute that, "We have had concrete information in the past that the theocratic regime ruling Iran has been recruiting people from European countries and dispatching them to terrorist camps inside Iran for training."
While few observers could begrudge Shi'ites the desire to stop the ferocious expansion of ISIS, the prospect of an Iranian foreign legion made up of battle-hardened fighters, many of whom will presumably later return to the West, is alarming. There is little assurance that this foreign legion, under the control of the Iranian regime, would simply limit itself to resisting ISIS, and not be utilized by the regime to aid its own violent ambitions, which includes terror attacks in the West.
There has been much discussion in the West of the threat posed by returning Sunni Islamist fighters. That fear is already beginning to be proven correct. Mehdi Nemmouche, a French-Algerian Sunni Islamist recently charged with murdering four people at the Brussels Jewish museum, is reported to have formerly spent a year fighting for ISIS in Syria.
The prospect of returning Shi'ite fighters, then, backed and organized by the Iranian regime, is also frightening -- not just because of Iran's history of targeting Jews across the world, but also owing to the possibility of Shia-Sunni sectarian conflict erupting in the streets of European cities.
Iran analyst Jacob Campbell told the Gatestone Institute that, "In its desperation to keep Iraq and Syria within its sphere of influence, the Iranian regime has resorted to enlisting thousands of foreign fighters from as far afield as India and Afghanistan. Now it is reaching out to the Shia Muslim community in Britain as well. The British government must therefore be doubly vigilant, to prevent the recruitment of Sunnis by ISIS on the one hand, and of Shi'ites by Tehran on the other."
The horrors perpetrated by ISIS, captured on camera and propagated through social media, distract the West from the threat posed by the Iran and its proxies. Iran's attempts to woo British Shi'ites should not be dismissed, but monitored and fought. Iran and ISIS are two sides of the same coin.