Iran—Suicide Attack in Chabahar Underscores Local Turmoil
Brian M. Perkins
A suicide bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle at a police headquarters in the Iranian port city of Chabahar on December 6. The bombing left at least two individuals dead and injured more than a dozen others (PressTV, December 6). The incident follows an earlier attack in Ahvaz on September 22, when several gunmen attacked a military parade, killing at least 29 and injuring more than 60 others (See TM, October 19).
Ansar al-Furqan—a Sunni Baloch militant group—claimed responsibility for the attack in Chabahar the following day (SITE, December 6). Ansar al-Furqan is based in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province and has claimed responsibility for several anti-regime attacks over the past several years, including an attack on an oil pipeline in Ahvaz in December 2017. Iranian authorities have reportedly arrested 10 individuals suspected of involvement in the attack and stated that more arrests would follow (PressTV, December 9).
While the attack was not particularly devastating in terms of the death toll or destruction of property, it underscores the anti-regime sentiment boiling under the surface in provinces such as Sistan and Baluchestan and Khuzestan, as well as security vulnerabilities in Chabahar and beyond. The attack came at a time when security was reportedly heightened in preparation for Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Force Commander Brigadier-General Mohmmad Pakpour’s visit to Chabahar.
Chabahar serves as a symbolic target, as it is the country’s only port with direct access to the ocean and is largely exempt from U.S. sanctions. Chabahar, a Free Trade Industrial Zone, is also a symbol of economic and political inequality for the Sunni population in Sistan and Baluchestan Province. The Sunni community frequently speaks out about the marginalization of their group.
The Iranian regime has typically maintained a tight grip on security throughout the country, but recent attacks in the past year have highlighted security vulnerabilities within the country and growing resentment toward the regime. The attack in Chabahar—while not devastating or an indication of an impending surge in attacks—is noteworthy both for being a rare suicide attack and because Chabahar is Iran’s primary means of circumventing U.S. sanctions. This places the regime in a complicated position in terms of how it frames the narrative of the attack.
Immediately following the attack, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif seemingly placed the blame on the UAE, and the regime frequently points to the Gulf nations as the source of insecurity within the country rather than acknowledging its local roots.  Although Ansar al-Furqan likely also operates or trains in the Pakistan border region—which was not mentioned by authorities—the group and the attack are rooted in local grievances that will only grow as the port comes closer to being operational, further fueling the economic disparity in the province and claims of political marginalization.
 Tweet posted by Javad Zarif on December 6 https://twitter.com/JZarif/status/1070666069575122944
Mozambique: Jihadist Violence Continues to Rise in Cabo Delgado
Brian M. Perkins
Islamist attacks have quietly been on the rise in Mozambique over the past year, with dozens of attacks and upwards of 100 fatalities to date. Militants launched a series of attacks in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado in early December, killing more than a dozen and injuring several others. Although the assailants were not definitely identified, authorities believe the local Islamist militant group, Ansar al-Sunna, is responsible.
Ansar al-Sunna is hardly known outside of Mozambique and reportedly began as a religious organization before moving toward militancy in 2015 (Club of Mozambique, May 23). Islamist attacks have historically not been a feature of Mozambique’s security environment. The first confirmed Islamist attacks took place in 2017, when the group attacked three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado province. There have been dozens of fatal attacks concentrated in Cabo Delgado since 2017, with an emphasis on the Palma district, which is expected to become the hub of a $49 billion offshore liquified natural gas operation.
Until recently, little was known about the group’s command structure other than it seemingly operated on a decentralized model. Mozambique’s security forces, however, identified six individuals in August that they believe to be key leaders within the group—Abdul Faizal, Abdul Remane, Abdul Raim, Nuno Remane, Ibn Omar and a sixth individual known as Salimo (Club of Mozambique, August 13). The group seemingly does not have an extensive operational network, and thus far has not expanded much beyond Cabo Delgado province. Ansar al-Sunna, however, should not be underestimated in its nascent stage, before it becomes more difficult to counter.
Mozambican security forces have cracked down on the region and have arrested hundreds of Muslim men and youth in Cabo Delgado since 2017, with 189 suspected members or collaborators on or awaiting trial. It is unclear if there is a broader security strategy that will be implemented in the wake of the most recent string of attacks, but security forces have already been accused of countless abuses ranging from arbitrary detention to executions. President Filipe Nyusi has urged communities of Cabo Delgado to remain vigilant and warned against recruitment efforts stating, “don’t let yourselves be deceived by people who are using religious pretexts” (Club of Mozambique, December 10). Nyusi also emphasized recent efforts to improve living conditions in the historically economically marginalized province; such as the opening of a new hospital, road improvements, and plans to establish a bank. Efforts to improve conditions for locals can be a good hedge against militant recruitment but can also easily be overshadowed by security forces abusing local civilians.
The lack of public claims and propaganda from the group has caused considerable speculation as to whether the group is more of a violent group of smugglers dealing in timber, rubies, and other local resources, or a more insidious Islamist extremist group akin to al-Shabaab or Boko Haram. The group’s origins as a religious organization, its alleged involvement in local mosques, and tactics such as beheading or burning civilians—including women and children—indicates the latter. It remains to be seen whether Ansar al-Sunna can successfully appeal to potential recruits in Cabo Delgado and whether it is resilient enough to withstand security operations that are likely to expand in the near future.