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The Specter of Terrorism - Radio Farda Listeners Discuss Security In Iran

General view of damage after a car bomb exploded outside a police station in Chabahar, Iran, December 6, 2018. Tasnim News Agency /Reuters

The port city of Chabahar in Southeastern Iran on December 6 woke up to the sound of an explosion from a car bomb that went off near the city's main police station killing three and wounding as many as 42 others.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attributed the attack to "foreign-backed terrorists," and some regional media including Al-Arabiyah reported that Ansar Al-Forqan, an offshoot of Jondollah insurgents had assumed responsibility for the attack.

Jondollah, whose former leader was killed by Iranian forces in 2017, has carried out several other attacks in Iran since then.

The attack in Chabahar followed several other violent attacks, including the September 29 assault on a military parade in Ahvaz which clamed 24 lives, the hostage taking in Mirjaveh, clashes with Kurdish rebels in Marivan which left 11 dead and last year's attack on the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini's tomb in Tehran where 17 were killed and 40 wounded.

Radio Farda's Friday evening show The Sixth Hour, on December 7 discussed Iran's security with Iranian security analyst Mehdi Talati, and Baluchistan affairs analyst Abdolsattar Doshouki, as listeners from Iran and elsewhere phoned in to share their views with other listeners and the program's host Niusha Boghrati.

They talked about what the attack meant in political terms, why did it happen in Chabahar, what is it going to entail and how probable are similar attacks. Some listeners' remarks highlighted their distrust of Iranian authorities and security forces.

A listener who named himself as Mehdi blamed the attack on the Islamic Republic, saying, "Every time there are mounting international pressures on Iran, the regime commits such an act in order to attract attention and at the same time to scare people."

Javad, another listener, called for "strict and powerful confrontation with terrorists," while also calling for "better protection of civilians' lives."

Yet another listener, Abbas, reiterated what Mehdi had said: "Like previous attacks [in this region] this attack was engineered by the security forces… They want to scare the people and say that they are secure only if the Islamic Republic protects them."

Prague - Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati hosting the weekly radio talk show The Sixth Hour, on Nov 18, 2016.
Prague - Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati hosting the weekly radio talk show The Sixth Hour, on Nov 18, 2016.

Hossein calling from Iran said "Chabahar is a commercial area where a terrorist act is unlikely to happen. It is unlikely that a foreign group can operate in such a busy place in a remote area. I think Iranian forces do these things in order to portray themselves as protectors of security in the region. They want to pretend that foreign elements are intervening in these acts."

Hamid, another listener, said: "People are not idiots. Iranian agents do this in order to attract the world community's sympathy and to change their attitude toward the Islamic Republic."

Another listener, also called Hamid, said that "The economic crisis has limited Iran’s ability to deal with security. The people are not happy with the situation of security. Unemployment and economic crises have made Iran less secure."

Security analyst Talati said, "Reviewing the event and pictures reveals that those who attacked used a new tactic and used a car bomb, while they had a second group of shooters," although he said that car bombs were used in Iran as early as the 1980s. Talati added that "Iran's neighbors in that region do not have much control over weapons trade in the border areas. So, there is easy access to explosives and other requirements for bomb makers in that region."

"Terrorist groups learn from each other. We see that what happens in Iraq or Syria, later happens in Iran. This is natural," Talati added.

Balush affairs analyst Doshouki said that "Ansar al-Forqan group has always been active in Chabahar and Qasr Qam in southern Baluchistan. Last year, Iranian security forces attacked one of their safe houses in Chabahar killing several of their members including their leader Qanbarzehi as well as Intelligence Ministry agent."

Talati explained that "Chabahar is a key place after sanctions were re-imposed on Iran. Exemption of Chabahar from US sanctions made it even more important. It is also important for India as it can facilitate trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia. Any insecurity in Chabahar harms the prospects of foreign investment in the area. At the same time, there are indications that a key meeting was going to take place in Chabahar on that day and the attackers were probably aware of it."

Chabahar in Sistan and Baluchestan Province is Iran's southernmost city and a strategic port on the Gulf of Oman.
Chabahar in Sistan and Baluchestan Province is Iran's southernmost city and a strategic port on the Gulf of Oman.

He said most probably local people were involved in the attack and foreign involvement, if there was any, was one of financial and logistic support.

Talati added that one of the implications of the attack could be tightening of security in Iran. Comparing the situation to the security atmosphere in Europe following the attacks in recent years, he said that Tehran's sensitivities would increase as many fear Iran can turn into another Iraq or Syria. However, he assessed that Iran was successful in maintaining overall security.

Asked if several attacks during the past year in Iran indicated that there was a security loophole attackers use, Talati said: "Although every individual's life is precious, it is a fact that more people were killed in road accidents and wedding ceremonies last year than in violent attacks like the one in Chabahar."

"Iran will continue to be secure if the system takes lessons from the past incidents and if its sensitivities are not eroded as a result of complacency with its success in keeping the country and its borders secure in the past. However, there is no absolute security anywhere," Talati concluded.