Azerbaijan stepping up probes against Iranian-backed extremist group “Huseyniyun”
    Tehran’s hybrid warfare

    ANALYTICS  26 December 2022 - 20:45

    Orkhan Jalilov

    On December 26, an Azerbaijani citizen, who lured the citizens to the ranks of the illegal military formation Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan, mostly referred to as “Huseyniyun” (followers of Imam Hoseyn), created in Iran, was extradited to Baku, upon inquiry by Azerbaijan’s State Security Service.

    Following investigations into a criminal case related to illegal armed groups involving Azerbaijani citizens, recruited by Iran’s special services, it was revealed that Taleh Yusifov had been hiding in the territory of a foreign state, and was declared internationally wanted and extradited to Azerbaijan.

    It has also been established that Yusifov, having crossed into Iranian territory since early 2016, together with several Azerbaijani citizens, participated in military training with various weapons, in planning military operations in Syria using special equipment, and in special training on intelligence operations.

    The arrest comes as tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have exacerbated recently. Hybrid wars in the Middle East are nothing new for Iran, as it has created and supported pro-Iranian paramilitary groups in order to gain influence in Shia-populated regions. Proxy groups supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been operating in Azerbaijan since the early 1990s, aiming to “break the secular nature of Azerbaijan and change its pro-Israeli-Turkish-western foreign policy orientation toward more pro-Iran,” according to the Israeli Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.

    The Huseyniyun Movement

    The Huseyniyun Shia Islamist armed group’s presence poses a long-term danger to the Republic of Azerbaijan, as it was formed by the IRGC in 2017, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

    On November 1, Azerbaijan arrested 19 members of Huseyniyun who were taught radical religious extremist ideas and underwent military training by the Iranian secret services. The leaders of the group, Tohid Ibrahimbayli (Tawhid Ibrahim Begli), Orkhan Mammadov, Akram Hajizada and Rovshan Asadov, are also Azerbaijani nationals who were charged in Azerbaijan for a similar crime and put on the international wanted list in 2018. They are currently hiding in Iran.

    A six-minute video showed the confessions of three detainees who said they had undergone military training in Syria, were paid between $500 and $1,000, and then returned to Iran.

    Back in August, Baku requested that Tehran is to extradite 41 Azerbaijani fugitives who have found refuge in Iran. 

    Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said in late April that he had submitted a list of nearly 20 Azerbaijanis to former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in 2018, asking that they are to be handed over to Azerbaijan over their involvement in a deadly attack on police in the city of Ganja earlier that year. It is worth recalling that the assassination attempt on Ganja Mayor Elmar Valiyev and the killing of two police officers during the 2018 unrest, was believed to have been orchestrated by the Huseyniyun group.

    Iran and neighbouring Azerbaijan both have Shia-majority populations, and using this fact, members of the Huseyniyun movement call for an overthrow of the secular system in Azerbaijan, and propose the Karimah (“generous” in Arabic) theocratic state concept in the form of an “Islamic Republic”.

    According to the founder of this movement, Tohid Ibrahimbayli, “the aim of the movement is to create a discourse and a deterrent power among the Shia Muslims of Azerbaijan”. The structure and number of personnel of Huseyniyun are not publicly known, but it is believed to have around 20 members.

    The flag of Husseiniyun features a yellow-field flag and a hand holding an assault rifle, a symbol of the IRGC, like all Tehran-backed militias. The name Husseiniyun refers to Shi’a Imam Hussein, who was Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, and remains a major symbol of martyrdom for Muslims in general.

    Who is Tohid Ibrahimbayli?

    Ibrahimbayli was previously detained for picketing in front of the Israeli Embassy in Baku and for disobedience to the police in Ganja in 2011. In late 2015, Ibrahimbayli instructed 14 students from Azerbaijan who were studying religion in Qom and Mashhad to establish a "Huseyniyun Brigade".

    These students were transferred to a military unit near the Syrian capital, Damascus, following military training in early 2016. Ibrahimbayli stated in Damascus that their intention was not only to fight ISIS (the Islamic State terror group), but also to prepare for an uprising in Azerbaijan.

    In Damascus, he met the late Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the IRGC Quds Force, a division primarily responsible for extraterritorial military and covert operations, who gave the brigade its name. Soleimani was assassinated in a US drone raid on January 3, 2020, near the Baghdad airport.

    The Huseyniyun head has unceasingly made "treacherous calls" against Azerbaijani statehood and announced that “he did not support Azerbaijan because of Israel’s support for Azerbaijan”.  

    During a meeting called "Ulema of the Ummah and the Islamic Awakening" held in Tehran in 2017, Ibrahimbayli presented himself as the chairman of the "Assembly of Fighting Clerics of the Republic of Azerbaijan," where the Iranian Supreme Leader instructed him to form an organization to recruit Azerbaijanis to fight in Syria.

    Huseyniyun’s social media platforms

    The Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan has increased its publicity on various social media platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and Facebook. There are also some Huseyniyun-affiliated YouTube pages AiM-TV, vahidummt2861, and Telegram pages AiM_TV, VAHIDUMMAT and mutaliatazerb (posts in Persian).

    These channels mainly publish pro-Iranian propaganda videos, quotes, statements and photos of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and, at the same time, Tohid Ibrahimbayli, Orkhan Mammadov, Akram Hajizada and others comment on current affairs, criticizing the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments, and defending Tehran's policies. They often appear in front of photos of the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor Ali Khamenei.

    These channels mainly use tags #Huseyniyyun, #Political_Resistance #Military_Resistance, #Individual_Resistance, #Public_Resistance, #Islamic_Government, #Karima_State.


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