The Gonabadi dervishes charismatic leader, 90 year-old Noor Ali Tabandeh. (ISNA)

December 24, 2019

The leader of one of Iran’s largest Sufi sects, Noor Ali Tabandeh, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Tehran, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. He was 92.

ISNA said Tabandeh had passed away in the capital’s Mehr hospital, where he had been admitted on October 31.

It said the cause of death was “old age” and that his body would be flown to his hometown of Bidokht, in eastern Iran, for a funeral on Wednesday.

Tabandeh, also known as Majzub Ali Shah, was the leader of the Nematollahi order which is based in the northeastern province of Khorasan but has followers all over Iran.

A student of French literature and law, he obtained a doctorate in Paris in the 1950s before returning to Iran.

He was arrested multiple times over the years, and followers of his order also known as the Gonabadi dervishes repeatedly clashed with militias and security forces.

On March 5, 2017 he published a video claiming to be under house arrest.

The Gonabadis accuse the Iranian state of frequent harassment and discrimination.

In February 2018, at least five security personnel were killed and more than 300 people arrested during protests by the Gonabadis in northern Tehran.

At the time, the protests were reportedly linked to the arrest of members of the sect and police efforts to establish security checkpoints near Tabandeh’s home.

According to Ensaf News, an Iranian news website with no known political affiliations, early this afternoon Tabandeh’s body was still held by the hospital while a crowd of his followers mourned outside. Police diverted passing cars to a nearby street. Tabandeh’s body may be taken to his hometown Gonabad in eastern Iran for burial.

A picture posted on Twitter shows a crane parked in the middle of a street to block access to the hospital. Another photo posted on Twitter shows riot police in full gear on bikes in a square leading to the hospital.

“Riot police in armor who are equipped with batons, firearms and tear gas have completely taken over all the streets leading to Zartosht Street [where the hospital is located],” a user tweeted in Persian this afternoon.



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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.