Part 1: History of Terrorism against Iran

November 7, 2018
By
Andrew Billingsley

Terrorism has been a recurrent challenge for Iran since the 1979 revolution. The perpetrators, targets and frequency have fluctuated. The early attacks killed hundreds of government officials, including a president, prime minister, cabinet ministers, and dozens of members of parliament. Attacks have been carried out by a wide array of actors—ethnic separatists, Sunni militants, monarchists, Marxists and, statistically most of all, the opposition Mujahadeen-e Khalq (MEK). In 2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a Sunni military group—launched its first attacks against the Islamic Republic, a predominantly Shiite country. 

Iranian security forces
Iranian security forces respond to an attack by ISIS gunmen on Parliament in June 2017

In the 1980s, terrorist attacks were mainly perpetrated by Arab separatists in Khuzestan province or by opposition groups. Separatist factions included the Arab Front for the Liberation of Ahvaz (AFLA), the Arab Popular Movement of Arabistan (APMA), and the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front. They all sought to create an autonomous or independent Khuzestan in the southwest. Marxist Islamist groups, such as the MEK and Forqan, operated mainly in Tehran and southeastern Iran. Exiled monarchist groups operating in the United States and Europe included the Pars Group (also known as the Guardian of the Royal Regime), the Armed Movement for the Liberation of Iran (AMLI), the Azadegan Organization, and Arya. These groups were often came together under the umbrella of the Free Iran Movement led by the niece of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Leftists and monarchists sought to overthrow theocratic rule. With the exception of the MEK, attacks by leftists and monarchists largely stopped after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988; many of their members fled the country. 

 

Iran mapBetween 1990 and 2005, terrorist attacks were less frequent and less deadly, but the targets and locations were more varied. As an insurgent group, the MEK reached its apex during the 1990s. It demonstrated global reach in April 1993 with attacks in Britain, France, Germany, and Holland. In 1994, Iran, in turn, felt a threat from outside its borders from dissidents based in Pakistan, who claimed to represent Iran’s Sunni minority. 

The formation of Jundallah, a Sunni Baloch militant group operating in southeastern Sisten-e Baluchestan province, in 2003 marked another turning point. It carried out a string of attacks from 2006 to 2010 that killed almost 150 people. After 2012, Iran faced incidents launched by a wider array of movements. Kurdish separatist groups, such as the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PEJAK) and the Free Democratic Society of Eastern Kurdistan (KODAR), claimed responsibility for separate attacks targeting Iranian soldiers in 2012 and 2015. In 2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria killed 12 in coordinated strikes in Tehran. In 2018, four gunmen disguised in government uniforms opened fire on a military parade; 29 were killed. Both ISIS and an Arab separatist group, the Ahvaz National Resistance, claimed responsibility. The following is a chronology of major terrorist attacks in the Islamic Republic.

 

1979

April 23 — Assassins fatally shot the first armed forces chief of the newly formed Islamic Republic, Gen. Mohammad Vali Gharani, outside of his home in central Tehran. A previously unknown militant Shiite opposition group called Forqan distributed pamphlets claiming responsibility for the attack. 

May 3 — Ayatollah Morteza Motahari was gunned down in the streets of Tehran after leaving Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s home. An anonymous phone caller claimed that Forqan was responsible.

Motahari
Ayatollah Morteza Motahari

July 7 — Taghi Haj Tarkhani, an opponent of the Shah and a prominent businessman, was assassinated outside of his home in Tehran. Leaflets dropped at the scene said the perpetrators were members of Forqan.

July 15 — Arab separatists attacked a Revolutionary Guard funeral in southwestern Khorramshahr, killing seven and injuring 60. 

October 3 — Arab separatists killed five and injured 16 in a bomb attack on a passenger train in southwest Ahvaz. 

October 5 — One person was killed and 35 injured when a bomb detonated in a Khorramshahr bazaar. 

1980

February 21 — An explosion at the headquarters of an Iranian relief agency, Red Lion and Sun, killed five and injured 39. No group claimed responsibility. 

April 4 — Five people were killed and four injured when six bombs containing TNT went off in a car in Khorramshahr. 

April 10 — One person was killed and 20 were injured when a bomb went off in a market in southwestern Abadanin. 

April 30 — Twenty-six people were taken hostage in the Iranian embassy in London by Arab nationalists from Khuzestan Province. The siege lasted six days; it ended when the gunmen killed a hostage and threw his body out of a window. British special forces launched a raid that freed the hostages. During the raid, one hostage and five of the six hostage-takers were killed. 

 

June 24 — A bomb killed 11 people and injured 56 in Ahvaz. Local radio blamed Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and the United States.

July 23 — Multiple explosions in the underground parking garage of a Tehran shopping arcade killed six and wounded nearly 100. An anonymous caller claimed Forqan was responsible.

July 30 — A bomb planted under a motorcycle in Ahvaz killed eight and wounded 36. State media claimed that the bomb was planted by counterrevolutionaries with ties to Iraq and the United States. 

1981

June 27 — A bomb in a tape recorder seriously injured Ali Khamenei, Tehran’s chief religious leader, during a Friday prayer sermon. Khamenei, who later became president and then supreme leader, permanently lost use of one arm. 

Khamenei
Ali Khamenei following the assassination attempt

June 28 — An explosion at the Islamic Republican Party headquarters killed at least 69, including four cabinet ministers. The government initially blamed the attack on the communist Tudeh party and “American elements.” It later claimed that the Mujahedin-e Khalq was responsible.

Remains of the Islamic Republican Party headquarters
Remains of the Islamic Republican Party headquarters

August 3 — A bomb went off near the Tehran office of President Mohammad Ali Rajaei, killing seven and injuring 10. A second bomb killed 13 people at a crowded shopping center in Kermanshah. 

August 30 — Prime Minister Mohammed Javad Bahonar and President Mohammad Ali Rajaei were assassinated in an explosion at the prime minister’s office. The Mujahedin-e Khalq claimed responsibility.

Rajaei
President Mohammad Ali Rajaei

September 5 — Ayatollah Hoseyn Baqeri was assassinated. 

September 11 — Ayatollah Seyyed Madani was assassinated in a suicide bombing, which also killed six others and wounded 12. 

November 24 — An explosion at Tehran’s central train station killed three people. 

December 1 to January 10, 1982 — In six separate attacks, nine people were killed, including members of the Revolutionary Guards, government officials and members of parliament. 

1982

February 22 — Three members of the Revolutionary Guards were among 15 killed and 60 injured in an explosion near a military barracks in Tehran. French media reported that an anonymous caller, who claimed to speak for the Pars monarchist group, took responsibility. The monarchists later denied involvement. 

September 6 — A bomb placed under a Leyland trailer killed 20 people and injured 100 in Tehran. Local media claimed that the attackers were “American agents," although the Mujahedin-e Khalq was suspected.

September 12 — Two bombs exploded in Enqilab Square near Tehran University 

September 20 — A bomb killed one and injured 20 at Tehran’s central bus station. 

October 1 — A truck filled with 330 pounds of TNT detonated across from a five-story hotel near Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan. The explosion killed 60 people and injured nearly 700. State media blamed U.S. “mercenaries.”

1984

April 26 — Regime opponents attacked the Iranian consulate in London, the Iranian embassy in the Netherlands, Iran Air offices in Frankfurt, and an Iranian U.N. delegation office in Paris.

August 23 — Separate groups claimed responsibility for a bomb planted in a fruit juice vendor’s cart that exploded during rush hour near Tehran’s central railway station, killing 18 and injuring more than 300. Arya, an exiled monarchist group based in Paris, claimed responsibility. A caller to Agence France Presse (AFP) in Tehran later claimed responsibility on behalf of the Unity of the Week of Resistance of the Martyr Khalaghi. 

September 6 — Three people were killed after two car bombs exploded in Tehran.

December 25 — A taxi cab filled with explosives killed five people and injured 50 outside a small hotel near Shoush Square in Tehran. An anonymous call to AFP in Tehran claimed responsibility on behalf of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, although the Paris-based group later denied it. 

1985

March 15 — A suicide bomber targeted a Friday prayer service at Tehran University led by President Ali Khamenei. He was not injured, but six people were killed. 

April 6 — An explosion at a Revolutionary Guard Corps base killed 14 soldiers and injured three dozen. Media reports claimed that an IRGC member placed the bomb. A second explosion injured two civilians outside of a bookshop near Tehran’s Istanbul Crossroad. 

IRGC seal
Seal of the Revolutionary Guard Corps

May 12 — At least 12 people were killed and more than 35 were wounded when a car bomb detonated near a central bazaar in Tehran. State media claimed that “U.S. agents” were responsible. The Mujahedin-e Khalq denied responsibility and called it “a crime committed with the sole aim of tarnishing the image of the just resistance.” 

August 18 — A car bomb in Tehran injured 30 people. 

September 11 and September 19 — Two separate car bombing attacks killed one and wounded 21. 

November 3 — A car bomb wounded two people in Tehran. 

November 7 — A bombing wounded three in Tehran. 

December 7 — Two were killed and eighteen wounded in a Tehran explosion. 

1986

July 8 — A bomb planted in a Tehran tea shop wounded 37. 

August 5 — A bombing in Tehran killed one. 

August 16 — A car bomb in the holy city of Qom killed 11 and injured 100 outside of the Shrine of Masumeh. 

Masumeh shrine
The Shrine of Masumeh in Qom

August 19 — A car bomb killed 20.

1988

February 16 — At least 10 were wounded by a car bomb in north Tehran. Iran’s Flag of Freedom radio, an underground news outlet, criticized the government for “downplaying” the incident; it reported “scores” of killed and wounded. 

1991

April 13 — Sheikh Hossein Raffi and his driver were gunned down by unknown assailants near Lamard in the south of Far Province. 

1992

April 5 — The Mujahedin-e Khlaq coordinated raids on Iranian diplomatic missions in 10 countries, including the Iranian Mission to the UN in New York and Iran’s embassies in Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. There were no deaths in the attacks. 

1994

April 19 — A bomb injured 13 people at a busy intersection in central Tehran. The Islamic Movement, a Pakistan-based group that claimed to represent Iran’s Sunni minority, took responsibility.

June 20 — An explosion inside the mausoleum of Imam Reza killed 70 and injured more than 100 in the northeastern city of Mashhad. The Mujahedin-e Khalq claimed responsibility. 

1998

June 2 — An explosion at the Islamic Revolutionary Court in north Tehran killed three people and injured six. The Mujahedin-e-Khalq later claimed responsibility. 

August 8 — Eight diplomats at the Iranian consulate in Mazar-e Sharif were killed after the Taliban captured the city in northwest Afghanistan.

Iran, Afghanistan map

1999

April 11 — Lt. Gen. Ali Sayyad Shirazi was assassinated outside of his home in Tehran by the Mujahedin-e-Khalq. 

Shirazi funeral
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top leaders at Shirazi's funeral

November 25 — Two people were killed and eight injured in an explosion at the Shahid Chamran Academy for Literature in Ahvaz in southwest Iran. The Mujahedin-e Khalq claimed credit.

2005

June 12 — Seven bombings in Tehran and Ahwaz took place in the run-up to the presidential election. They were claimed by the Arab Martyrs of Khuzestan, the Arab People's Democratic Front, and the Armed Renaissance Group of Ahvaz. The four bombings in Ahvaz killed eight and wounded 75. The three bombings in Tehran killed two and wounded three.

October 15 — Twin bombings killed four people and injured 102 in a crowded Ahvaz market. 

2006

March 16 — In Baluchistan, near Zahedan, militants posing as police officers and soldiers stopped cars and attacked occupants. Jundallah, a Sunni Baluch militant group formed in 2003 and operating in southeastern Sistan-e Baluchestan Province, claimed responsibility; 22 were killed.

Jundallah's logo
Jundallah's logo includes an outstretched arm holding a rifle, and an open Koran

May 13 — Jundallah barricaded a road in Kerman and killed 11 passengers in four cars, then set the vehicles on fire. 

2008

April 12 — An explosion in Shiraz killed at least 12 and injured more than 200. The Jihadi Movement of the Sunna People of Iran, a Sunni dissident group, claimed responsibility.

December 29 — A suicide bomber killed four people and wounded 12 in an attack in Saravan in southeast Iran. Jundallah claimed responsibility.

2009

May 29 — At least 20 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in an explosion during evening prayers at the Amir Al-Momenin mosque in southeastern Zahedan. 

October 18 — A Jundallah suicide bomber attacked a unity meeting between Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders in Sistan-e Baluchestana. The explosion killed 35 people, including 15 Revolutionary Guards and 10 tribal leaders, and wounded 25. Among the dead were General Nur-Ali Shushtari, commander of the Revolutionary Guards in Sistan-e Baluchestan Province, and General Mohammad-Zadeh, the IRGC commander in Iranshahr. 

2010

January 12 — An Iranian physics professor was killed by a motorcycle bomb outside his home in northern Tehran. Iranian media blamed the United States and Israel for the attack.  

July 15 — Two suicide bombers killed 28 people, including IRGC troops, and injured more than 300 worshippers at the Grand Zahedan Shiite Mosque in southeastern Iran. Jundullah claimed responsibility.

November 29 — Two identical attacks targeted senior Iranian scientists during their morning commute. Majid Shahriari, a nuclear engineer, was killed and his wife and driver injured after a small explosive was planted on the rear door of his car by a passerby on a motorcycle. A second car bomb seriously wounded nuclear physicist Fereidoun Abbasi and his wife after they attempted to flee their vehicle. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed a “western government” and Israel for the attacks.

 

December 15 — At least 39 people were killed and 50 wounded in a suicide bombing outside the Imam Hossein Mosque in the southeastern coastal city of Chabahar. Jundallah claimed responsibility. 

2011

July 23 — Motorcycle gunmen killed Darioush Rezaeinejad and wounded his wife outside of their home in eastern Tehran. Iranian officials claimed the attack was part of an assassination campaign targeting the country’s nuclear program by British, American, and Israeli intelligence. 

2012

January 11 — Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan and his driver were assassinated during their morning commute in Tehran after a motorcyclist planted a magnetic device on their car. Iranian officials accused Israel and the United States. 

 

2013

February 24 — A commander of the Revolutionary Guards, General Hamid Tabatabaei, was assassinated. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PEJAK), a militant Kurdish separatist group, was suspected.

November 19 — Two suicide bombers killed 23 and wounded 146 inside the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a Lebanon-based group linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility.

2015

August 7 — Twenty soldiers were killed in an attack on an army base in Marivan. The Free and Democratic Society of Eastern Kurdistan (KODAR), a Kurdish separatist group, claimed responsibility, although government media implicated PEJAK. 

2017

June 7 — Six gunmen killed 12 people and wounded 46 in two coordinated attacks in Tehran. The first attack targeted Parliament; the second hit the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a Salafi-Jihadist militant group, claimed responsibility. 

 

2018

September 22 — Four gunmen wearing military uniforms killed 29 and wounded 53 in an assault on a military parade in Ahvaz. Both the Islamic State and Al Ahwaz, an Arab separatist group advocating independence for Khuzestan province, claimed responsibility. Iranian officials suggested that the United States and its Gulf allies had a role. 

Etemad Newspaper: "Ahvaz in Blood"

Etemad

Click here for a history of Iran-backed terrorist attacks. 

Image credits: Iranian security forces by Erfan Kouchari [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] via Tasnim News Agency; Map of Iran with province names by Ali Zifan [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons; Morteza Motahari [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] via Tasnim News Agency; Ali Khamenei by unknown author (http://farsi.khamenei.ir/photo-album?id=1955) [CC BY 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0) or CC BY 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Islamic Republican Party headquarters [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] via Tasnim News Agency; Mohammad Ali Rajaei [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; IRGC seal by MrInfo2012 [Public Domain] via Wikipedia Commons; Musumeh Shrine by Mostafameraji [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons;
By
Andrew Billingsley