In the Eastern Ghouta, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights learned from several reliable sources that the regime forces in the past period have facilitated the entry of Shiite delegations to cities and towns of the Eastern Ghouta with the aim of distributing gifts to children in schools and holding recreational festivals, while delegations of Shiite women entered towns of Htaytet al-Turkman and al-Zriqa in the southern sector of the Eastern Ghouta northeast of the capital, with the aim of giving religious lessons to women in the area in some mosques, in order to spread ideas of the Shiism doctrine through these religious lessons.
In general, Shiism in the Syrian coast, the capital, and all over the Syrian territory is witnessing more and more strongly spread among both Sunnis on Alawites, where the main reasons for bowing to the operations of converting to Shi’ism are material causes, where the Alawites in the Syrian coast mostly refuse to spread Shiism despite the presence of this activity since before the Syrian revolution in 2011, and al-Rasul al-Azam Mosque and the Iranian Cultural Center were the most prominent centers of Shi’ism on the Syrian coast, and with the spread of Iranian Shiite centers all over Syria; the Iranian objectives have become clear in changing the sectarian structure of the Syrian people, in a way that makes it able to become a follower of the al-Faqih regime in Tehran, and spreading the Iranian influence in Syria and making Syrians loyal to al-Wali al-Faqih’s regime.
Covert activity of Iranian cultural centers
Iranian cultural centers, under the covert of running cultural activities – actually are involved in the religious conversion of Sunnis into the Shia sect, while it also actively is involved in funding anti-US and antisemitic activities. Another task of these cultural centers is to send the newly converted Shias to Iran, where they get brainwashed alongside training of notorious terrorist acts – while some of them finally return to Tehran’s target nations with instructions of terror attacks.
Iran also has a project of expanding the size of the Shi’ite population worldwide. With this agenda, the Iranian intelligence agency is using attractive girls for trapping targeted individuals under romantic relations. In most cases, these female recruits of Iranian intelligence follow the Shi’ite tactics of taqiyya [deception] as well as Muta’a [temporary marriage] in luring the targeted males into their romantic trap and finally sending them to Iran, either brainwash and recruitment or even for execution.
The Iranian regime is spending a significant amount on their conversion project, where mostly they target Muslims from the Sunni sect of Islam.
The case of a Colombian Shia cleric
Tereza Dvorakova, a student of Security Studies at the Masaryk University in Brno and currently an intern at Radio Farda English wrote in an article:
Buenaventura is one of the most violent and poorest cities in Colombia. In one of the most dangerous neighborhoods, music sang by children’s voices is wafting from a house with a big sign saying Mezquita in front of it. It is a mosque and a headquarters of the local Shia Muslim community led by Sheikh Munir Valencia, a Colombian cleric who got educated in Iran.
Munir Valencia was born in Buenaventura. His mother raised him to be a proper Christian. When he was preparing to go to the service of God and work in a church, he met a girl from a Muslim family which made him question his religion, and eventually he converted. As a new ardent Muslim, he was offered a scholarship to study in a famous mosque in Buenos Aires under a prominent Iranian cleric Mohsen Rabbani.
As he later proved his talent and devotion to Islam, he and his wife were given an opportunity to study in Qom. As he describes, he got everything for free, starting from education and accommodation to transportation and other benefits. Once he came back, he started to run an educational and cultural center as well as a local mosque to practice his religion and share it with the community.
Munir Valencia is not the only one in Latin America who converted to Shia Islam and traveled to Qom to get an Islamic education to spread in local communities. In fact, Iranians have built a well-structured and systematic network of cultural centers and local mosques usually led by converts trained in Iran with an aim to recruit local people and increase Tehran’s influence in the region.
As Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert on activities of Iran in Latin America from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explains “When people convert, they travel to Iran and the trip is fully funded by the regime. It is usually a two-month trip during which they take classes, see the Iranian [religious] culture, holy sites, or battlefields of the Iraq- Iran war. Part of this process is designed to identify the most talented students because most of them come back or stay in Qom even for years to train to become clerics.”
When they come back, their role is clear –promote their religion and the Iranian regime. The cultural centers seem to be the most convenient way to do so as it allows them to organize events, publish texts in Spanish or spread their message on social media.
The cultural centers are integrated with a systematic network spearheaded by an organization called Islam Oriente. “They have a whole range of publications for the Hispanic community, they overwhelmingly produce in Spanish but they also started to publish in Portuguese and the range of publications is impressive – they have a quarterly journal that is history, philosophy, theology or they also have publications for children called Los Angelitos,” summarizes Ottolenghi.
The organization is based in Qom and is led by Mohsen Rabbani, one of the leading persons in Iranian operations in Latin America who came to Argentina at the beginning of the 1980s to spread the message of the Islamic revolution. According to Argentinian judicial authorities, Mohsen Rabbani was implicated in the bombing of a Jewish Community Center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires in 1994. Based on the information of an investigation report by Alberto Niesman, the Argentinian government issued a still-standing international arrest warrant and an INTERPOL red notice which forced him to leave Argentina and move back to Iran.
Prior to his departure, Rabbani proved to be very successful in his missionary work guiding numerous converts and helping them to strengthen their faith. He has developed an especially strong relationship with the Argentinian-born Lebanese descendant Suhail Assad who has become one of the most prominent figures in an Iranian propaganda campaigns in Latin America.
“Suhail Assad was born in Buenos Aires; he went to university where he studied theater and acting. However, he found out he had some sort of spiritual epiphany, so he decided to journey back to Lebanon to the village of his ancestors. He was probably recruited because he started to study there to become a cleric and eventually moved over to Iran where he was ordained as a cleric in Qom in a seminary for foreign students. From there he eventually became in charge of spreading the word in Latin America,” says Ottolenghi.
Assad is also the face of Iranian propaganda as he has hosted several religious programs broadcast on HispanTV, he has been a subject of a documentary movie about his life, and hosted a documentary series about Muslim converts in several countries on the continent.
Although he is generally located in Qom, he often travels across Latin America to carry out missionary work, giving lectures at universities and helping locals to establish their cultural centers. According to open sources, he has laid the foundations of more than 20 Islamic centers in Latin America and has visited more than 80 universities, lecturing about the Islamic Revolution in Iran or about Shia Islam.
This way, Assad has become an important link between local cultural centers and the Qom-based sponsoring organization, Islam Oriente. This connection is further enhanced by an Islam Oriente operation called Center for Iranian-Latin American Cultural Exchange which is based in Caracas and where Suhail Assad is usually operating from while traveling in Latin America.
Having extensive ties in the Latin American Shia Islamic community and a close relationship with Mohsen Rabbani, he has been associated with several international watch terrorism lists or connected to the 1994 AMIA attack due to which he was banned from entering Mexico.
Assad is also a brother-in-law of Argentinian cleric, who succeeded Rabbani at the Buenos Aires At-Tauhid mosque and Rabbani’s first convert and right-hand man, Abdul Karim Paz. Due to the close relation with Suhail Assad, Abdul Karim Paz very often appears in his shows on Hispan TV explaining Shia principles of Islam. According to Emanuele Ottolenghi “, he is reportedly in charge of accompanying coverts from Latin America to Iran.” He has also helped to establish several cultural centers in Chile and Bolivia. In a book called Iran’s Strategic Penetration of Latin America, he is described as an influential person “managing Mohsen Rabbani missionary operations targeting Argentinians and also in developing the younger generation of Islamists in Argentina such as Suhail Assad.”
Iranian operation in Latin America, however, extends beyond the Spanish-speaking world. In the Brazilian capital Sao Paulo, it is possible to find several Iranian cultural centers. Two of them, the Islamic Benevolent Religious Organization and center Arresala, are operated by Sheikh Taleb Hussein al-Khazraji, an Iraqi-born cleric who was sent to Brazil not long after Mohsen Rabbani. “Al-Khazraji has been involved in Iran’s network since the early ’80s. Before he came to Sao Paolo in 1989, he was in Tanzania,” explains Ottolenghi.
Hundreds of Iranian spies in Arab and western cities
Members of the Iranian intelligence network are working in the Arab cities as well as western nations, mostly under the disguise of traders, teachers, musicians, painters, journalists (representing Iranian media) as well as sex workers. While most of them are assigned to collect information as per the requirement of Tehran, they also either directly or indirectly participate in Shi’ite terrorist activities, especially targeting Jews, Israelis, and Americans.
It is well anticipated, following the establishment of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, activities of Iranian spies as well as Iranian or Iran-backed Shi’ite terrorists will substantially increase. Arab nations as well as their allies in the west should remain extra-vigilant against Iran’s notorious agendas.