ISIS Hits Iran

Terror Comes to the Islamic Republic

People hold pictures at the funeral of victims of the attacks on the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum in Tehran, June 2017. Reuters

After three years of trying to strike Iran, the Islamic State (ISIS) finally succeeded in June. The group attacked two highly symbolic and secure targets near Tehran: the Iranian parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. With this attack, ISIS ticks off its list another important target.

In the summer of 2014, Iranians were panicking as ISIS gained ground in Iraq and its leader declared a caliphate. Iran has grappled with terrorism since the 1940s, but ISIS was a new breed. It controlled swaths of territory not far from Iran’s porous border with Iraq, had vast resources at its disposal, and deployed a large number of operatives, including foreign fighters. Making matters worse, the group was vehemently anti-Shia and exhibited barbarism rarely seen in modern times.

At first, Tehran played down the concerns: The Iraqi security forces were pushing back ISIS, Iranian state media asserted. But soon, it became clear that ISIS was becoming a bigger threat by the day and that Iran needed to tackle the issue rather than brush it under the rug. To that end, it deployed a counterterrorism force honed by years of experience. And with the country increasing its defense budget to allocate further resources to counterterrorism, this apparatus is likely to become even more robust.


Modern Iran’s experience with terrorist groups began in the 1940s, when for a few months during the transition of power between Reza Shah and his son and successor, Mohammad Reza Shah, the state was in turmoil. In the decades that followed, until his regime collapsed in 1979, the Shah was mostly concerned with Islamist, Marxist-Leninist, and Marxist-Maoist groups. Iran’s military, along with its first intelligence agency, known as the SAVAK, were in charge. With law enforcement agencies, the military and SAVAK conducted surveillance, identified terrorist networks, arrested their members, and collected intelligence to prevent, neutralize, and deter attacks. By the early 1970s, the SAVAK and law enforcement had created a joint task

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