Iran (MNN) – When ISIS began rapidly gaining territory in Iraq and Syria in 2014, nearby Iran was largely able to keep the terrorist group from entering their country. But today, with ISIS all but eradicated from its old strongholds in Iraq and Syria, Iran is seeing an increase in ISIS activity along the Iraqi border.
Reuters said earlier this month that in late January, three Revolutionary guards were killed along the border in an attack by 21 ISIS militants from Iraq. Altogether, five of the ISIS fighters were killed in the clash. The news agency reports that just a few days prior to the attack, a massive weapons stash was discovered in the Iranian town of Marivan.
When the final strongholds of ISIS were cleared out in Syria and Iraq, many voices eagerly celebrated the group’s demise. However, there were plenty of cautionary voices in the mix as well, warning of the permeating mobility of an ideology like that of ISIS.
Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says along with the ideology, we have to consider the militants who are alive and well after escaping Syria and Iraq. They have to go somewhere, and Iran seems a likely place to go.
Iran is mostly made up of Shi’ite Muslims, a sect that the Sunni-identifying extremists believe is heretical. However, within Iran, there are the Kurds. This ethnic group, mostly Sunni Muslims, makes up about 10 percent of the population.
Nettleton says it might be ISIS’ tactic to infiltrate this population using the common ground of Sunni Islam.
“There is a large Kurdish population within the borders of Iran. And so it’s a country where they can get into, they can mingle, and fit in with the wider culture which maybe makes it easier to go in undetected.”
But despite this unique climate that ISIS might be taking advantage of, Nettleton says Iran is not alone in grappling with the ominous possibilities of where ISIS will go next.
“The issue that Iran is facing is the same issue that Egypt is facing. It’s the same issue that Libya is facing. It’s the same issue that some of the European countries are facing.
“What’s going to happen to all these ISIS fighters who have been fighting and training in Iraq and Syria, now that those battlefields have fallen? You know, we hear that ISIS has been defeated. Well, there are thousands of trained fighters who are now returning home—in some cases that’s Iran, like I say, in some cases that’s western European countries—what’s going to happen to them, or what damage are they going to do once they get home? That’s a question that many countries are asking right now, not just Iran.”
Open Doors USA’s 2018 World Watch List revealed that persecution against Christians is intensifying across the board. For the last few years, ISIS has played a part in the growth of persecution. But what’s ahead for this next year?
Nettleton says, “I think we will see religiously-motivated attacks, not only by trained ISIS fighters but by others as well. It does raise the possibility that we may see them in some places where we haven’t seen them previously as these fighters return home.”
These concerns raise a lot of questions for international leadership and the Church alike. Check back in with us later this week as we zoom out to look at persecution and how we can respond in faith and hope in the truths of the Gospel.