Secret documents which have been leaked online from a number of foreign intelligence agencies throw light on clandestine Iranian activity overseas. This material, which is gradually being published by the Guardian and Al-Jazeera, particularly shows worrying indications of a large amount of Iranian interference in African nations.
Iran appears to regard Africa as a potential means of avoiding sanctions; as a lucrative market for selling arms to militant groups; and as a fertile region for the “creation of a new international extremist network”.
Reports note Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s emphasis on enhancing “Iran’s relations with Islamist movements and networks with the capacity of destabilizing those countries closely aligned with the USA and its allies”.
A secret report by the South African State Security Agency examines how Iranian Embassies abroad are used as a base for coordinating activities through various front organizations (mosques, cultural centres, “carpet businesses”, bonyads, student organizations etc).
Among the aims of these clandestine activities are: Infiltrating various organizations, exerting an influence over local Islamic communities, gaining access to information about technological capabilities and “procuring military hardware”.
The sectarian agenda of many of these initiatives is also noted; for example; funding mosques and cultural centres with a Shia orientation. This is observed to cause tensions with other Muslim sects.
Iran’s Islamic Propagation Centre distributes books, leaflets and tapes promoting the pro-Iranian brand of Twelver Shi’ism, as well as sending clerics to “disseminate revolutionary ideology” and create a “network of pro-Iranian clergy”. A similar role is performed by the Ahlulbayt organization, which is reported to work hand in hand with Iranian intelligence agencies, recruiting like-minded individuals and radicalizing Muslim communities. The report cites at least 11 African states where Ahlulbayt has active offices.
The report notes a particular Iranian interest in widening its influence in Libya and Egypt, which has the further potential to exacerbate tensions there.
The report notes the smuggling of Iranian arms through Sudan into Egypt and other countries. This illegal activity has had the effect of damaging Iran’s diplomatic relations with some African states.
The secret report claims that after the “deterioration” of Al Qaeda, Iran is seeking the “creation of a new international extremist network in which Iran could exert influence and control”.
Iranian operatives have been ordered to “engage and organize as many of the terrorist movements as possible”. Senegal, Mali and the Horn of Africa were identified by Iran as key zones where terrorism could rapidly be revived and organized to advance Iranian interests”.
When Iran is investing so much money undermining security in far-flung African states; this begs the question about how much greater the extent is of Iran’s efforts to stir up unrest and aggressively further its influence in Arab states like Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.