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Obscure Sunni Faction In The Spotlight After Iran, Pakistan Spat

Iranian soldiers in Sistan-Baluchistan
Iranian soldiers in Sistan-Baluchistan
A little-known Sunni extremist group, Jaish-ul Adl (Army of Justice), is facing increased scrutiny after it launched a series of cross-border raids and kidnappings inside Iran from its hideouts in Pakistan.

The Pakistani and Iranian governments have publicly exchanged threats in reaction to the attacks.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli threatened that Tehran would send forces into Pakistan's southwestern province of Balochistan to free five border guards who were abducted by Jaish-ul Adl.

Islamabad this week responded by warning Iran to respect the border between the two countries

Jaish-ul Adl appears to be a new incarnation of Jandullah (God's Soldiers), a Sunni extremist group that carried out raids and suicide bombings in Iran's southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan Province for around a decade beginning in 2003.

Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province.
Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan Province.
Nearly two million ethnic Baloch live in the restive border region. They are pre-dominantly Sunni and harbor strong grievances against the Islamic republic, which is a Shi'ite theocracy.

Writing in Pakistan's English-language daily "The News," journalist Sajid Hussain Baloch noted that Jaish-ul Adl is the latest name for a Sunni extremist current which emerged in the 1990s and is allied with Pakistan's anti-Shi'ite Sunni extremists.

First called the Sipah-e-Rasoolallah (Army of the Prophet of Allah) under the leadership of Maula Bux Darakhshan, the group launched cross-border attacks in Iran's Sistan-Baluchistan from the Kech district of Balochistan. After Darakhshan was killed by Iranian forces, Sipah-e-Rasoolallah merged into Jundullah in 2006.

During the next three years, Jandullah's activities peaked inside Iran. The violence killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians. A deadly October 2009 suicide attack in southeastern Iran killed more than 42 people, including elite Iranian military commanders. The attacks grabbed international attention and provoked an Iranian clampdown.

Funeral of suicide bombing attack victims in Sistan-Baluchistan, October 2009.
Funeral of suicide bombing attack victims in Sistan-Baluchistan, October 2009.
​Iran’s February 2010 capture of Jandullah leader Abdolmalek Rigi was a severe blow to the group. Rigi was hanged in June 2010. Over the next two years, Jandullah failed to carry out any major attacks.

According to journalist Baloch, Jandullah renamed itself Jaish-ul Adl in 2012. Salahuddin Farooqui and Mullah Omar (unrelated to the Afghan Taliban leader and an Iranian Baluch rebel) are two of its major leaders. The group launched its first major attack in October 2013, killing 14 Iranian border guards. In retaliation, Iran executed 16 Baluch "bandits".

Abdolmalek Rigi.
Abdolmalek Rigi.
Baloch claims that Iran has launched many raids against Jaish-ul Adl inside Pakistan which have not been reported.

Jaish-ul Adl appears unlikely to disappear any time soon. Iran has accused Pakistan and its Arab rivals of using the group to foment trouble.

For more than a decade now, multiple conflicts have been brewing in Balochistan, a vast desert region which spans Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran along the Arabian Sea.

Thousands have died in a Baloch separatist insurgency and military operations in Pakistan since 2003. During the past few years, Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, was the scene of deadly attacks on the tiny Shi'ite Hazara community. The attacks were claimed by Pakistani Sunni extremists. Criminality and drug smuggling is one the rise in all parts of Balochistan, as regional states compete over vast mineral wealth in the strategic underdeveloped region.

Abubakar Siddique