By Amir Toumaj
September 18, 2020
The Afghan paramilitary group Fatemiyoun Division, which answers to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), held its first “international conference,” an ideological indoctrination gathering, on Aug. 13 at the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, Iran.
The Fatemiyoun’s Media Center has released more details and content about the event over the last several weeks, shedding light on the event that also revealed the blurred-out face of its chief commander for the first time.
The Fatemiyoun organized the gathering with the blessing of the Reza Holy Precinct, a multi-billion dollar foundation that oversees the shrine and answers to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The conference reflected several trends in the Fatemiyoun’s evolution. It represented Fatemiyoun’s effort to solidify a sense of community among veterans and families of fighters who reside in Iran, efforts to enhance ties with other IRGC-backed elements, and efforts to present itself to the Islamic Republic support base as a worthy group in the mold of Lebanese Hezbollah.
The conference also reflected the evolution of the group’s media arm, which produced a number of professional-looking productions, such as montage videos and infographics about the event, and deployed a “journalist” to interview individuals there. A number of Iranian outlets and newspapers also reported on the event.
The conference came amid questions and speculation about the group’s direction following a draw down in late 2017 after the end of a major offensive in eastern Syria against the Islamic State. The Fatemiyoun continue to deploy to and publicize its presence Syria.
In the conference, the Fatemiyoun and other IRGC-backed groups reiterated the goals of destroying Israel and avenging the death of Qods Force chief Qasem Soleimani, both of which are the ideological goals of the IRGC and the Islamic Republic. These ideals bind the IRGC-backed network into an offensive and aggressive vision – but the realistic ability to fulfill those goals is another matter.
For the first time, the Fatemiyoun displayed its chief commander, though his face was blurred and name was not provided for security reasons. The unnamed commander told a Fatemiyoun Media Center reporter that “all of our effort must be spent on forcing the U.S to leave the region,” which would be the “great revenge” for the U.S. killing Soleimani. It is unclear when he was appointed to this post.
Senior Fatemiyoun commander “Seyyed Elias” addressed the conference and told the Media Center that the conference’s goals were to praise families of martyrs and “create regular conference with tangible result [involving] other countries that are active in the Resistance front,” with the final goals of destroying Israel and expelling the US from the region.
Om-olbanin Hosseini, the wife of deceased Fatemiyoun co-founder and former chief Alireza Tavassoli (“Abu Hamed”), reiterated these goals in a separate interview. Killed in 2015, Tavassoli is the Fatemiyoun’s most recognizable figure, and since his death, Om-olbanin has carried on his legacy and name, giving interviews and appearing in events like the conference.
IRGC-backed paramilitary group representatives and figures addressed the conference through recorded video messages, in which the figures praised the Fatemiyoun, and reiterated their ideological goals of destroying Israel and expelling the U.S. from the region.
Lebanese Hezbollah cultural deputy Hojjat ol-Eslam Akram Barakat said that “anytime I look at the faces of you Fatemyoun mujaheds, I remember the beautiful face of commander martyr Soleimani.”
Iraqi Harakat al-Nujaba spokesman Nisr al-Shimri told the conference that “American forces witness parts of ‘hard revenge’ by your brothers in the Iraqi resistance every day.” He was referring to – and exaggerating – claims of attacks against logistical convoys against Iraqi contractors for the U.S. and related harassment of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bahrain Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Isa Qasim declared that “Fatemiyoun mujahids have humiliated the Zionist enemy and American pride.”
A Palestinian Islamic Jihad official sent a recorded message in praise of the Fatemiyoun, as well. Iranian cleric Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem-Shirazi, who is an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, also sent a letter in prase of the Afghan group that was read out loud.
Hassan Mughniyeh, the son of prominent Hezbollah commander Emad, was scheduled to speak at the event, but reportedly did not make an appearance.