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Increasing Number Of Afghans, Pakistanis Killed In Syria Buried In Iran

Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (left) with Afghan Alireza Tavasoli, commander of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, who was killed fighting in Syria.
Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (left) with Afghan Alireza Tavasoli, commander of the Fatemiyoun Brigade, who was killed fighting in Syria.

An increasing number of Afghans and Pakistanis killed in the fighting in Syria have been buried in Iran in recent months.

There is little information about the circumstances of their presence in Syria and their subsequent deaths in the fighting.

They appear to be among recruits by the Islamic republic to help the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fight the rebels. Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had been recruiting thousands of Afghans to fight in Syria, offering them financial rewards and residency.

Iranian media often cover large funerals held for them in Iranian cities, usually attended by local and religious officials. The reports refer to them as the "defenders of the Sayeda Zeynab shrine," a group believed to have been established by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The group also includes Iranian fighters.

Fatemiyoun Brigade

On March 1, Iranian hard-line websites reported that an Afghan named Alireza Tavasoli, who was described as "one of the bravest commanders" in the fighting in Syria, had been killed in Daraa.

Tavasoli was the commander of the Fatemiyoun Brigade that, according to Iranian media reports, is made up of Afghan volunteers who fight in Syria to protect holy Shi'ite shrines. Tavasoli, known as "Abu Hamed," was reportedly a resident of the Iranian city of Mashhad and a graduate of a university in Qom.

The hard-line said Tavasoli was trusted by the commander of Iran's elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. The website posted a photo of Soleimani and Tavasoli in military uniform.

The report said Tavasoli was buried along with six other Afghan fighters in Mashhad.

Zeynabiyoun Brigade

Iranian hard-line media has reported that Pakistanis killed in the fighting in Syria and buried in Iran were members of the Zeynabiyoun Brigade, which has reportedly been established by Pakistanis fighting in Syria.

On April 9, seven Pakistanis killed in Syria were buried in Qom.

The hard-line website identified them as Taher Hossein, Jamil Hossein, Javid Hossein, Bagher Hossein, Seyed Razi Shah, Ghader Ali, and Ghabel Hossein, and said they were from Pakistan's Parachinar region.

Two weeks later, on April 23, Iranian media reported that five more Pakistanis killed in combat in Syria had also been buried in Qom. The reports said a large number of citizens, including Pakistanis residing in Qom, had attended the procession.

The names of the two brigades that include Afghans and Pakistanis have relatively recently popped up in Iranian hard-line news sites.

Ali Alfoneh, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, says establishment of the Fatemiyoun and Zeynabiyoun brigades suggests that the number of Afghans and Pakistanis who have joined the fighting in Syria has increased.

Alfoneh believes that the Afghans and Pakistanis are being buried in Iranian cities and the presence of Iranian officials and their families at their funerals is evidence that they have been recruited from among the country's refugees and immigrants.

Alfoneh has documented in the past two years the case of about hundred Afghans killed in Syria and buried in Iran. "There has been a rising trend, which seems to be because of several military setbacks for the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and advances of the opposition in the field," Alfoneh told RFE/RL in a telephone interview.

Reports suggest Iran provides Syria, its main regional ally, with financial support and military advisers. Iran denies reports that its forces are fighting in Syria to keep Assad in power.

Iranian officials have also dismissed reports suggesting Tehran is recruiting Afghans living in Iran to fight in Syria.