Al-Qaeda in Baluchistan and its Connection to the War in Syria

Ariel Koch exposes the activity of Balushi terrorist organizations in Sistan-Baluchistan in Iran, and the way that they have adopted the ideology of Salafi-Jihadi organizations, most significantly that of al-Qaeda.

דגל חדש של אנצאר איראן.  מ-Online Jihad Exposed.
The new flag of Ansar Iran.  From Online Jihad Exposed.

The Baluchistan region, which spreads across Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, is the site of a little-known jihad sector known as Sistan-Baluchistan, which is concentrated in the Iranian part of the region. In this arena, Sunni terrorist organizations, composed of members of the Baluchi minority, operate against Iran, which they consider to be an occupying Shi‘i force. Some of these organizations, which began their path as separatist organizations seeking the establishment of an independent Baluchi state, have adopted Salafi-Jihadist rhetoric, with social networks playing a significant role in documenting ideological changes they have undergone, and exposing their connections to the global terrorist organization Al-Qaeda and to combat sectors outside of Baluchistan, especially in the Syrian arena.

Diverse terrorist organizations, motivated by Marxist, nationalist, or Islamist ideologies, or some combination thereof, have been operating in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution. These include both Shi’i organizations like Jamaat al-Furqan[1] and Mujahidin-e Khalq, and Sunni organizations, like Jundullah, that began operating in 2003. In recent years, particularly after Iran succeeded in attacking the leadership of Jundullah,[2] another organization, Harakat Ansar Iran )The Movement of Iran’s Supporters) appeared. It is a Sunni Jihadist group that began operating in late 2011, and strives not only to establish an independent Baluchi state, but also to take control of Iran, which it calls “Persia,” by destroying the regime of the Ayatollahs and returning the country to the Sunni fold after about 500 years of Shi’i rule. The first statement issued by organization’s leader Abu Yassar Muskootani stated that the its operatives are determined to “destroy the [Iranian] regime” and that in recent years “the soul of jihad and combat have only increased in Baluchistan.” Moreover, he declared that as long as the rights of the Baluch population are under attack, the Iranian regime “will never feel comfortable or secure.” [3]

Over the years, Ansar Iran has proven that it knows how to exploit internet-based communication technologies. The organization and its supporters operate blogs in Arabic, Persian and English, in addition to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter accounts,[4] that have helped recruit activists for jihad.[5] The person likely responsible for the organization’s online activities was Hashim Azizi, also known as Abu Hafs al-Baluchi. Considered one of Ansar Iran’s founders, Azizi was an experienced jihadist who, according to the biography published by the organization, had links with anti-Shi’i terrorist organizations from Pakistan. He was also a central figure in the construction of media networks for other Baluchi organizations, including Jundallah, as early as 2005.[6] This experience served him well in Ansar Iran. His publications were distributed by the al-Farooq Media, founded in December 2012 and included mostly anti-Shi’i materials in English and Arabic that were widely distributed among jihadists who support Al-Qaeda.[7] Today, most of the organization’s publications are disseminated via the Morasel Ansar Al-Furqan Telegram channel. This channel has approximately 190 followers,[8] which may be indicative of the group’s modest size.

Beginning in November 2013, evidence emerged suggested that the organization is identified with Al-Qaeda and its teachings. Its flag, which had included Baluchi national symbols and the word “Iran,” was replaced by a black flag with a white circle in the center, and the Shahada, the basic declaration of Islam (“There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His messenger”) inscribed in the circle. Beneath this, the organization's name appeared as “Harakat al-Ansar,” without the word “Iran.”  Apparently “Iran” was omitted on the grounds that its mention might indicate recognition of Shi’i sovereignty, and as an indication of the organization’s aspiration to avoid territorial limitations, which is typical of Salafi jihad organizations striving to establish a Muslim state that goes beyond Iran’s borders.

In December 2013, Ansar Iran, which had cooperated with various jihadist groups in Baluchistan[9], announced its merger with another Baluchi jihad group, Hizb-ul-Furqan, and the establishment of Harakat Ansar al-Furqan fi Bilad al-Fares (The Movement of Supporters of the Koran in Persia).[10] The first announcement issued by the new organization declared that its goals are “to overthrow the Iranian regime, lift up the word of Allah, remove oppression and provide aid to the oppressed (in our land and all Moslem lands influenced by the corruption of Shi’i Iran), and implement the law of the Lord of the world” by means of jihad for the purpose of “restoring the caliphate that our beloved Prophet Muhammad promised us.”[11] Expanding the organization’s activity beyond Baluchistan and including the return of the Caliphate as one of its goals reflected innovations that were not included in the organization’s previous rhetoric, but are consistent with ideas of Salafi jihad organizations and Al-Qaeda in particular. Moreover, after the establishment of Ansar al-Furqan, the organization began operating a training camp named after Osama bin Laden, the mythical founder of al-Qaeda.[12] Posters published by the organization included quotes from Bin Laden’s teacher, the Palestinian cleric Abdallah Azzam (1941-1989), who laid the ideological foundation for the establishment of Al-Qaeda.

In April 2015, Azizi was assassinated by Iran, but his organization continued to operate against it, both online and offline, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past. For example, the organization carried out a series of attacks against Iranian targets in the Sistan-Baluchistan region between September 2015 and June 2016.[13] The expansion of its activity into Iran was evidenced by the detonation of an oil pipeline in the Arab city of Ahwaz in December 2017, and documentation of the incident that the organization published on the internet.[14] It should be noted that other attacks in this area were carried out by the Arab separatist underground.

If the Baluchi arena is unfamiliar to many, the existence of Iranian-Sunni groups fighting against Assad and Iran in Syria, within the framework of Al-Qaeda, is even less known. For example, there is the Harakat al-Muhajirin Ahl-Sunat Iran (The Sunni Immigrant Movement of Iran), which is also composed of Sunni minorities from Iran, among them ethnic Baluch, Kurds and Arabs. They arrived in Syria by air and land, and joined Jabhat al-Nusra, which later changed its name to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.[15] The group's media wing is called Al-Qadisiya after the battle in which the Muslims defeated the pagan Persians; and its Telegram channel has now accumulated about 2,000 followers.[16] In an exclusive interview granted by one of the group’s members and published on the Long War Journal website, the interviewee declared his wish that he and his comrades would have an opportunity to return to Iran and implement his worldview, including “destroying the infidels [referring to the Iranians].” [17]

The evidence of the link between the Baluchi organizations and Al-Qaeda illustrates the way in which the Salafi-Jihadist ideology penetrates local spaces around the world, and even manages to mobilize them for other jihad arenas around the world. Furthermore, this connection also illustrates how jihadist ideology exploits parties in local conflicts whose essence is not religion, but ethnicity, discrimination against minorities, and the like. However, it is important to distinguish between the online resonance generated by the local organizations, which allows them to leverage their message, and their actual size, which is negligible. It is possible that propaganda disseminated by Ansar al-Furqan resonated with al-Qaeda supporters because of its anti-Shi’i discourse, and because it transmitted messages in English and Arabic. This propaganda helps recruit activists for jihad and expand the Baluchi-Jihadi activity into Syria, which might ultimately have an impact on the Sunnis in Iran and neighboring countries.


[1]  Ronen A. Cohen, Revolution Under Attack: The Forqan Group of Iran (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

[2] Chris Zambelis, "The Evolution of the Ethnic Baluch Insurgency in Iran", CTC Sentinel, Volume 7, Issue 3, March 2014: 17-20, p. 18.

[3] "Speech by Our Emir Abu Yasir Muskootani on the Eve of our First Successful Operation (Translation)", Ansar Iran Blog, October 21, 2012

[5]  "Ansar Iran Member Recruits Through Twitter", SITE, October 12, 2013.

[6] "Abu Hafs AlBalushi and His Role in the Jihad in Baluchistan", Ansar Iran Blog, May 19, 2013;, 15 July 2018. 

[7] For an example of this, see the video “The Way of Jihad” produced by al-Farooq Media, published on al-Qaeda platforms and distributed by the Global Islamic Media Front, an important media outlet for al-Qaeda. The video was uploaded to, a distribution platform for Al-Qaeda and related organizations. The video was also distributed on the Gazwa website, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent.  Last accessed 27 October 2018.

[8]There is no shareable link available for this channel. Last accessed 27 October 2018. Among the platforms that served Ansar al-Furqan in the past are the Twitter account of al-Furqan (now inactive); the now suspended Twitter account of al-Farouq Media: ; and the now-suspended Twitter account of Abu Hafs al-Baluchi .

[9] "Harakat Ansar Iran Announce Cooperation with Sepah-e-Sahaba", Ansar Iran Blog, December 17, 2012.  Accessed: 23 October 2018.

[10] Zambelis, "The Evolution of the Ethnic Baluch Insurgency in Iran", p. 19.

[11]  "Important Announcement: Merger of Hizbul-Furqan and Harakat Ansar Iran," Ansar Iran's Blog, December 7, 2013 [Accessed:  7 December 2018]

[12]  See the  

[13] For reports on the attacks by Ansar al-Furqan and its online activity, see here.

[14] "Ansar al-Furqan Claims Bombing Oil Pipeline in First Operation in Iranian City of Ahvaz", SITE, December 30, 2017.

[15] Lars Hauch, "Interview with an Iranian Fighter in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham", Long War Journal, September 18, 2018.

[16] There is no shareable link available for this channel. Last accessed 27 October 2018.

[17] Lars Hauch, "Interview with an Iranian Fighter in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham", Long War Journal, September 18, 2018.