Across the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iranians accused of being members of al Qaeda are being held in prisons – some even in specific high security wings. Yet their vary presence is barely reported in the media. FRANCE 24’s Observers explore the country’s complex relationship with the terrorist movement.
While Iran is a majority Shia state, al Qaeda is an organisation rooted in an extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam. Shiism and Sunnism are the two dominant strands of Islam. The majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunnis [estimates put the figure at around 85-90%]. Followers of Shiite Islam make up roughly 10%, and account for the majority in Iran.
“They formed a football team and called it ‘al Qaeda’”
FRANCE 24 has been speaking to former prisoners in Iran who say they were incarcerated alongside members of al Qaeda. One of them is Mohsen [not his real name], a Green Movement activist who was only recently released from prison and prefers to remain anonymous. He was locked up in 2009 in high security cells at Evin and Rajaie Shahr prisons.
It was strange for me to see these prisoners [Kurds, from Kurdistan in western Iran – a majority Sunni region] in Rajaie Shahr prison who stand accused of being members of al Qaeda, because Kurdistan is known as a secular area. [Figures show that roughly eight million Sunnis live in various areas of Iran, including Kurdistan, Baluchistan in the east, and the Northern Provinces.] They formed a football team for internal prison competitions and called it ‘al Qaeda’.
Initially published on France24 on 01/10/2014
Read the full story here.