November 05, 2016

On 26 October 2016, at a gathering in Hamedan province, Commander Salar Abnoush, deputy coordinator of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) Khatam-al-Anbiya Garrison (the engineering wing of IRGC) said: “ Defending the supreme leader has no border nor limit. The world should know that IRGC will soon be in Europe and the U.S.”

 In a speech which was picked up by international media, Abnoush reiterated the unwavering devotion of Fedayeen (IRGC’s fighting core) to the Islamic Republic. He distinguished the Islamic Revolution from the French and Algerian revolutions by highlighting the “unique presence” of the IRGC in the world and comparing its role to that of the seventh century Shurta-Alkhamis.

Commander Salar Abnoush (left) and Commander Qasem Soleimani

 Shurta-Alkhamis was a force of approximately five to six thousand well-trained warriors who were devoted to Imam Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Mohammad, ruler of the Islamic caliphate 656 to 661 AD). Their foremost duty was to maintain law and order in territories under Ali’s rule, and in Kufa on the banks of Euphrates river in present-day Iraq. They were also tasked with recruiting fighters from territories under their control and from abroad.

 The IRGC’s involvement in covert operations outside Iran is not new, but the renewed commitment to strengthen extraterritorial operations and its underlying motive is significant.

 Since inception, the Islamic Republic has been engaged in gathering intelligence on opposition groups and has assassinated dissidents abroad. At the end of Iran-Iraq war, most of IRGC’s intelligence operations came under the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Organization of Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution. In the years that followed,the Qods Force took over IRGC’s extraterritorial operations.

 Unit 400 is a special operations unit within the elite Qods Force. Its existence came to light in 2011 after the assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Karachi, Pakistan. Less than a year later the Kenyan authorities arrested and charged two Iranian nationals suspected of planning terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia, UK, US, and Israel. The men were members of Unit 400.

 Unit 400 is a multilayered organisation, with members involved in various operations including procuring assets in foreign countries, bribery, and acts of terrorism. It is a clandestine unit of the Qods Force under the direct command of the supreme leader.

 Commander Hamed Abdollahi, a high ranking officer of Unit 400, was the commander of IRGC in Zahedan, in Sistan and Baluchestan province. Previously he was deputy commander of Qasem Soleimani when he headed the 41st Sarallah Division of Kerman. Shortly after Ayatollah Khamenei appointed Soleimani to the head of the Qods Forces in 1997, Abdollahi was put in charge of its intelligence wing.

 According to some of his former fellow IRGC officers, Abdollahi was involved in a number of covert operations and was instrumental in crushing armed groups fighting the regime in Sistan and Baluchestan. Abdollahi has reportedly compiled a comprehensive file on Iranian dissidents living outside Iran. He is among the individuals sanctioned by the US.

 Another senior member of Unit 400 is Majid Alavi who was appointed deputy intelligence minister by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. Alavi played a critical role in suppressing dissent and subduing demonstrators, following the disputed presidential elections of that year.

 Unit 400 has several offices in and around Tehran, its headquarters is at the Iranzamin building on Pasdaran Avenue. A number of its administrative and operational centers are located in Shahid Iraqi Complex along the Shahid Sayyed and Pasdaran Highway.

 The operational core of Unit 400 is made up of battle-hardened senior officers from the 41st Sarallah Division of Kerman who served with Major-General Qasem Soleimani. They have years of war experience fighting armed groups in the east and battling drug traffickers and organized crime gangs. Not all operations are military in nature. Operatives travel abroad as members of educational, research, finance, industrial, or trade teams to gather intelligence for use in future operations.

Qasem Soleimani in Kerman

 Members of Unit 400 enjoy many privileges and perks including but not limited to foreign assignments and free housing. Joining the force is a choice career move and there is intense competition among IRGC troops to join the elite unit.

 In 2011, the Nigerian authorities seized a large cache of arms in the city of Lagos and arrested Azim Aqajanzadeh, an Iranian merchant with strong ties to the IRGC. Aqajanzadeh was subsequently charged with smuggling weapons. Two years later, Nigerian security forces identified an Islamist group headed by a man named Abdollah Mostafa who had travelled to Iran twice, and was reportedly planning  terrorist attacks against American and Israeli interests in Nigeria.

 In the past few years, a number of Unit 400 operatives have been arrested and convicted of committing terrorist attacks in Kenya, Thailand, Georgia, Azerbaijan, India and Turkey.

 The core function of Unit 400 is to carry out military operations, launch terrorist attacks, smuggle arms, and conspire with mercenaries and organized crime groups. Unit 400 is also involved in appropriating and developing assets, researching indigenous cultures, identifying sectarian conflicts, and compiling data on a wide variety of subjects.