The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Ground Force (IRGC-GF) said today that its troops foiled attempts buy suicide bombers trying to attack one of its bases in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan near the Pakistani border, the IRGC’s official website Sepah News reported. A press release by the IRGC-GF’s Quds Base (not to be confused with the IRGC’s elite Quds Force responsible for external operations) said armed militants in a vehicle laden with explosives attempted to carry out a suicide attack against one of its bases in the Saravan region of the province.  The statement claimed that four assailants were killed. One of the attackers reportedly detonated his explosive vest after failing to reach the IRGC base. Two members of the IRGC’s Basij Organization sustained injuries during the encounter. It was not clear from the IRGC statement whether the assailants had entered Iran from Pakistan.

Comment: Over the past year, Iran’s southeastern and northwestern regions – home to marginalized ethnic and religious minorities – have seen an upsurge in violence by separatist and terrorist groups. Security has markedly deteriorated in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province, which borders both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif earlier today raised the issue with his Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif in Islamabad, and the two sides stressed the need to bolster border security cooperation. Militant and separatist groups based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province have repeatedly crossed border and attacked the Iranian security forces in the past one year, whereas drug traffickers use Sistan and Baluchestan as a key route to smuggle opium from Afghanistan.

With a sizable yet largely neglected Sunni population, Sistan and Baluchestan can be a breeding ground for local militants and separatists as well regional and international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Sunni Baluchs have long suffered state-sanctioned discrimination, economic marginalization, cultural repression, disproportionate executions, torture, detention without trials and extra-judicial killings.

In January, the IRGC said that its forces had seized a cache of explosives and suicide vests in the Saravan region. “This shipment which the terrorist group ‘Jond al-Shaitan’ was attempting to smuggle into the country to create security problems and riots and [conduct] terrorist activities] was seized by Islam’s warriors,” the statement added – referring to Jundullah militant group that operates in the Baluch regions of Iran and Pakistan.  

Security has also been tense in Iran’s western border provinces as well. In December, unidentified gunmen killed and injured several Iranian border guards in West Azerbaijan Province near the Turkish border, the Iranian media reported. And in November, the Iranian media reported that at least eight Iranian border guards were killed in clashes with an armed group in the same province. A week prior to that, the IRGC announced that its forces “dismantled a terrorist team” in the same area. According to a statement released by the public relations department of IRGC’s Hamze Sayyid al-Shohada Base, four “terrorists’ were killed in armed clashes between IRGC forces and the militants. The statement did not reveal the group’s identity, but alleged that it was “affiliated with the Global Arrogance” – a term Iranian officials often use for the United States and its allies. Several other clashes between militant groups and security forces took place in August and September in West Azerbaijan.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry last year also revealed that the country’s security forces had disbanded nearly 100 “terrorist groups” across the country. “Highly serious measures have been taken in the Southern, Southeastern and Western parts of Iran and nearly 100 teams have been confronted," the deputy Iranian intelligence minister said.

In the northwest, the PDKI has resumed armed resistance against the Iranian regime. Mustafa Hijri, PDKI’s secretary general, said last January that their resistance was not “just for the Kurds in Iran’s Kurdistan, but it is a struggle against the Islamic Republic for all of Iran.” PDKI militants based in the Iraqi Kurdistan region have repeatedly crossed the border and clashed with the IRGC in the Iranian province of Kurdistan.

When the anti-regime protests broke out across Iran in late December, four Iranian Kurdish political parties and militant groups  voiced support for the protests. The groups urged the international community to back the Iranian people’s “legitimate demands.”