November 2019: Which security and militia institutions started violence and shot people?

Zamaneh Media
25 min readJan 8, 2021

by Farzad Seifikaran — 8 January 2021

👉🏽 About this research:
November 2019 witnessed the largest nationwide protests against the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) regime since the 1979 revolution. The death toll of these protests reached into the hundreds. Who started the violence during the November protests? Which forces and institutions played a role in suppressing these protests? What kinds of weapons and tools were used to kill the protesters? This research seeks to answer these questions by examining more than 1700 photos and videos of the protests, consulting experts, and conducting interviews with eyewitnesses.

Protesters’ blood on the pavement — Marivan, November 2019

At midnight on Friday, 15 November 2019, the price of fuel carriers in Iran increased by 200% without notice, and free petrol’s price increased from 10,000 rials (1000 tomans) to 30,000 rials (3000 tomans) per liter. This increase followed an extrajudicial decision by the Supreme Economic Coordination Council of the Heads of the Three Powers. This council, also known as the “Economic War Chamber,” was established in 2018 at the order of Supreme Leader of the IRI Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Economic Coordination Council of the Heads of the Three Powers remains a largely unknown institution and there is much ambiguity about its legal authority. The fact that the name of this institution, however, was tied to the increase of petrol prices led to a series of gatherings and protests in November 2019 in more than 120 cities and towns across Iran.

The November 2019 national protests were the most unprecedented popular protests in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran in terms of scale, severity of suppression, and applied violence. The innovative methods used in these nonviolent civil protests were also unique. These nationwide protests lasted for at least five days, from November 15–20.

Although this series of nationwide protests initially began because of the increase in the price of petrol, they quickly developed a broader anti-regime message. During the protests, police and security forces killed and wounded hundreds of protesters and innocent civilians, and arrested thousands more. The IRI regime has not yet released any precise statistics on the number of people killed and detained during the November 2019 protests.

In the absence of accurate statistics and a lack transparency from Iranian authorities, human rights organizations and news agencies have published their own statistics, all of which been denied by the Iranian government.

👉🏽 Available data on the number of people killed in the November 2019 nationwide protests:
■ In a report dated 16 December 2019, Amnesty International stated that the number of those killed in November up until that point was more than 304 according to credible sources; the organization confirmed this number in a supplementary report published on 20 May 2020.
The Human Rights Organization of Iran confirmed the deaths of at least 324 people during the November 2019 protests. According to the same organization’s report, about 10,000 protesters have been arrested or prosecuted.
■ In an exclusive report published on 20 December 2019, Reuters quoted several unnamed sources within the Iranian Ministry of the Interior as saying that more than 1500 people had been killed during the November 2019 protests.
■ The website “Kalemeh,” which is close to former Iranian Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, quoted confidential bulletins to report an “unofficial 631 deaths” on Thursday, 2 January 2020.

If each of the above statistics were true, it would indicate the bloody suppression of defenseless citizens who only set out to protest the high price of petrol and the difficult economic conditions of the country.

In addition to the statistics provided by human rights organizations and news agencies, after seven months passed Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli indicated in a televised interview that between 200 to 225 people were killed during the November 2019 protests. Mojtaba Zolanuri, a close ally of the Supreme Leader, a Qom member of parliament, and the head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the 10th parliament, also spoke about this topic. He told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the Social and Disciplinary Committee of the National Anti-Corona Headquarters that during the protests of November 2019, 230 Iranian citizens were killed.

On the evening of 16 November 2019, after two days of protests, the Iranian government shut off the internet nationwide. This blackout disconnected those inside Iran from the outside world and was a measure of severe regime suppression to stop the protests as swiftly as possible.

Netblocks company data depicting the Internet blackout in Iran on 15 November 2019. Netblocks is a non-governmental organization that monitors cyber and government internet security.

First: The beginning of violence

Who initiated the violence? The people or the police forces?

After its review of events, news stories, thousands of videos and images, and eyewitness narratives during the November 2019 protests, Zamaneh concludes that police and security forces started the violence and attacked the protesters with the intention of ending the protests.

Security forces took this intention even further and, in some cases, resorted to destructive acts so that they could justify suppression and violence against protesters.

The first signs of protest appeared at midnight on Friday, 15 November — the same time as the announcement of the increase of petrol prices. According to news and videos, people across the country rushed to petrol stations and formed long queues to buy petrol in the moments following this announcement.

In Ahvaz, people went to the petrol stations to protest this news, calling for a “boycott on the purchase of petrol.” Several videos released that morning showed people gathering at petrol stations in Ahvaz, chanting anti-regime slogans without any destructive activity. (See the interactive map in the following section for more videos.)

Ahvaz — Early hours of 15 November 2019 — Peaceful protests the high price of petrol

Another video shows a woman as one of those who went to the petrol stations on the morning of 15 November 2019 in Karaj. This woman was protesting peacefully, demanding that others turn off their cars and not buy petrol, and speaking about poor living conditions and high prices.

Karaj — Daybreak on 15 November 2019 — A woman calls for not buying petrol and turning off cars

Following the announcement of the petrol price increase, there were also pictures and videos of a large police force presence released. These images and video depicted the police forces in a state of readiness near petrol stations in various cities across the country, indicating that they may have anticipated a possible popular protest and were ready to deal with it.

Presence of riot police at petrol stations in the evening of 14 November 2019, a few hours before the announcement of the increase in petrol prices — Valiasr Street, Tehran

By the morning, even more images and videos surfaced that showed people spontaneously calling for a boycott on petrol without any prior planning. This nationwide act became the spontaneous “No to buy petrol” campaign, which was a nonviolent protest including the act of turning off cars in the streets.

Until the evening of Friday, 15 November, people mostly protested the rise of petrol prices in the same way, trying to make their demands heard by the officials of the Islamic Republic.

The image below of the city of Izeh is an example of a peaceful protest by citizens against the rise of the price of petrol, demanding that citizens “stop their cars and not move.” To avoid any possible accusation from the regime and security forces, a citizen wrote on another piece of paper:

“I’m neither American nor anti-revolution (1979). I am just dying under the expense and indifference of the government.”

An example of citizens protesting the high price of petrol by turning off cars — Izeh, 15 November 2019

By using these smart confrontation tactics in the November 2019 protests, citizens made evident their self-awareness of regime suppression. The regime and the security forces confirmed this desire to suppress and end protests as quickly as possible by resorting to unusual methods such as shutting off the internet and destroying people’s property.

Two videos below show other examples of peaceful protests calling for citizens to stop moving their cars and buying petrol.

In the following video from 15 November 2019, a Bakhtiari citizen shows his car odometer and announces that he was unwilling to buy petrol and move his car because he believed that “the extra 2,000 tomans he had to pay for petrol will not be spent for Iranian citizens, but in other countries, such as Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria”.

A Bakhtiari citizen calls to not move cars to protest the high price of petrol — 15 November 2019

In the next video, also from 15 November 2019, a few citizens from Kuhdasht in Lorestan province announced that they began to participate in the “No to buy petrol” campaign the previous Friday. They went on to say that they would walk 12 km from Kuhdasht city to Tang-e Voraz (Goraz) to attend a party.

Kuhdasht — “No to buy petrol” campaign and walking instead of driving a car — 15 November 2019

In addition to boycotting the purchase of petrol, people also called that cars stop driving on 15 November. In many cities, citizens turned off their cars in the streets, highways, and roads in protest, creating traffic jams.

Mahshahr and Ahvaz were among the first cities where peaceful protests against the increase in petrol prices began in main streets and squares. At that time, the protests were not yet serious and widespread. As the November 2019 protests progressed, however, both cities witnessed much more severe and bloody suppression.

People in Ahvaz tried to encourage others to join the protest with the slogan, “honorable Ahvazi, turn off your car.”

Despite the peaceful and nonviolent protests of Ahvaz on the night of the petrol price increase, riot police were sent to the city the next morning, 15 November.

Deployment of anti-riot forces to Ahvaz — 15 November 2019

In general, the primary act of protest against the rise in the price of petrol was creating traffic jams. Protestors did so by encouraging citizens to turn off their cars in the streets, closing correspondence routes with stones or soil, burning tires and garbage, and boycotting petrol. The protesters’ behavior shows their understanding that even the slightest non-peaceful act could become an excuse for suppression by the regime and security forces.

The beginning of the November 2019 protests was not only peaceful, but also demonstrated new and creative methods of civil protest by Iranian citizens. The protests continued in this way as people showed their opposition to the rise of petrol prices through non-violent measures until noon on Saturday, 16 November 2019. At that point, the situation changed completely as a result of violent security forces and police reactions.

👉🏽 The following methods were among the nonviolent methods used by people in different cities across Iran to protest the high price of petrol:
■ “No to buying petrol” campaign
■ Displaying car odometers as a sign that they did not move
■ Turning off cars in the streets, roads, and passages
■ Strikes, closing markets and shops in some cities
■ Obstructing streets and roads with stones and soil and starting fires
■ Sitting in the streets and singing in groups
■ Participating in different activities on carless streets such as playing football, volleyball, or backgammon, smoking hookah, cleaning vegetables, etc.
■ Sleeping on the street with a shroud
■ Giving flowers to the police and Law Enforcement Force of the IRI
■ Riding children’s tricycles
■ Chanting various slogans

🔻 On the following interactive map, there is a collection of videos showing nonviolent protests in different parts of Iran:

Non violent protests in different parts of Iran

In Isfahan, protesters sat on the street and cleaned vegetables as a sign of protest. In Baneh, protesters rode children’s tricycles, offering to replace cars with them. Iranians played football and smoked hookah on closed highways in various cities such as Islamshahr, and gave flowers to the police forces in Shiraz. In Ahvaz, Isfahan, Sadra, and Behbahan, protestors sat on the street floors and sang hymns. In Najafabad, a woman who lay under a shroud, spoke about exorbitant prices and family female supervisors… These were the images of protesters who were later called “rioters,” “villains,” and “affiliated with the forces of foreign agents.”

Only 24 hours after the protests began, the police forces reacted violently. In the first reactions, the Special Forces on Vakilabad Boulevard in Mashhad used batons to destroy vehicles that people had turned off in the streets in protest. On the evening of 15 November in Ahvaz, which witnessed the most non-violent protests during the day, special forces attacked the protesters. In the city of Quds in Tehran province, security forces opened fire on protesters, and killed Hossein Abrouy.

🔻 Zamaneh received the following video, which shows the moment when security forces opened fire on the protesters in Quds leading to the death of Hossein Abravi. This video may be disturbing for some viewers.

The moment of Hossein Abravi’s killing in Quds– evening of Friday, 15 November 2019
Hossein Abravi, one of the citizens killed in the November 2019 protests in Quds

Hossein Abravi was the first protester to be killed in the November 2019 nationwide protests. He was shot directly by the security forces.

According to information and a video sent to Zamaneh by one of Hossein Abravi’s friends, he was shot and killed on the evening of Friday, November 15th near his residence while with friends and relatives.

Shortly afterwards Ruhollah (Javad) Nazari Fath Abadi was shot in the head and killed in Sirjan, Kerman province. On 16 November Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, the governor of Sirjan, confirmed that this citizen had been killed and called him one of the “ordinary people.”

On the evening of November 15th, when Javad Nazari Fath Abadi was killed, videos of a fire at a petrol station in Sirjan were published. It is not possible to confirm whether the station was set on fire before or after the police shooting.

Shabnam Diani, one of the people killed during the protests of November 2019 in Shiraz — originally from Behbahan

Zamaneh’s independent investigations revealed that at least three protesters were killed by security forces on Friday, 15 November. In addition to Javad Nazari and Hossein Abravi, Shabnam Dayani was also killed while protesting in Shiraz, the center of Fars Province.

It was initially said that Shabnam Dayani had lost her life in a car accident due to pressure from security agencies, but one of her relatives told Zamaneh that she was killed by security forces in Shiraz between 11 PM on 15 November and 1 AM on 16 November.

As in previous cases, the IRI authorities and police forces did not accept any responsibility for the deaths of these citizens. However, the available evidence shows that the regime acted rapidly against the protesters from the first hours. It was as if the regime was afraid of a new protest, after the nationwide protests in January 2018, which received international media coverage.

The violent reactions of police and anti-riot forces against protestors became more and more widespread on the afternoon of 16 November. After that, news and images of fires set to governmental buildings such as banks, police stations, petrol stations, Basij bases, seminaries, and Friday prayer leaders’ offices were released.

Although people had previously set fire to trash bins and tires to cause traffic jams, there were no reports of protestors setting fire to governmental buildings. Some unconfirmed reports attribute the destruction and burning of public property to undercover security forces who sought justification to suppress the protests quickly and severely. Most of these fires began on the afternoon of Saturday, 16 November, and it is not clear which individual, group, or organization was responsible for them.

Sajjad Karami, a 15-year police force veteran and member of the Kermanshah Special Forces during the November 2019 protests, spoke with Zamaneh about the role of the security forces in destroying public property and places. Karami and his wife left Iran with difficulty after the protests in November 2019. His identity and administrative documents are in the possession of Zamaneh’s editorial office and have been verified.

As an eyewitness, Karami confirmed that much of the destruction was carried out by plainclothes members of the security forces among the protestors. In an interview with Zamaneh, he also mentioned the January 2018 protests, telling Zamaneh that the person who lowered the Islamic Republic flag during those protests in Tehran, which became an excuse to suppress the protesters, was an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) member.

🔻 One of the most important pieces of evidence in this regard is the closed-circuit television (CCTV) video of a residential building in the Moali-Abad neighborhood of Shiraz. This footage shows members of the special forces destroying people’s houses.

The video below depicts the destruction of people’s cars by the police. The location of the video is unknown, but the special forces threaten and insult the protestors in addition to destroying their property.

🔻 The interactive map below includes a collection of videos about the disproportionate violence of security forces and police against citizens in different Iranian cities.

In addition to the thousands of videos and photos available from the November 2019 protests, one of the most important pieces of evidence of the regime crackdown was recorded police conversations. These conversations indicated their readiness to deal with the protesters.

🔻 Listen to recorded police conversations:

Zamaneh spoke with two eyewitnesses who were present among protesters in Tehran and Rasht about the beginning of the violence and asked them to explain their observations.

🔻 The thoughts of S. Iqbal about the destruction of public property and the beginning of violence in the November 2019 protests in Tehran can be found here. As an eyewitness who conducted a field investigation into the protests in Tehran, Iqbal shared his observations on how the situation became violent because of security forces.

🔻 Listen to Mehdi’s observations of the November 2019 protests in Rasht (for the security and safety of witnesses, Zamaneh has voiced their narrations):

In addition to nonviolent protests in various cities, students organized parallel peaceful protests at Iranian universities. These protests were limited to clapping, chanting slogans, and singing hymns on campus with no sign of violence; some of them took place at the University of Tehran and University of Babol. However, security forces attacked student dormitories during the night, detaining many students and transferring them to unknown locations.

Soha Mortezaei

Soha Mortezaei, former secretary of the Central Syndicate Council at the University of Tehran, was one of these arrested students. Mortezaei was arrested on the night of Sunday, 17 November, with two other students in the girls’ dormitory at the University of Tehran.

The evidence set forth and events of November 2019 show that the regime and Law Enforcement Force neither acted moderately nor tolerated nonviolent protests, which are officially recognized as a right under the Constitution of the Islamic Republic and its governmental Charter of Civil Rights. Rather, they chose to violently repress them.

The evidence discussed thus far is not the whole story. Security forces had to carry out their suppression secretly in order to control the protests quickly, and so they blocked the only way people could communicate with the outside world in an unprecedented way. On the evening of Saturday, 16 November 2019, the Ministry of Communications of Iran shut off the internet by order of the National Security Council. This measure demonstrated the regime’s commitment to repress and silence the protesters’ voices and to prevent news of the protests from spreading outside Iran. It seems that security forces used their experience from the 2018 protests and the flood of media that included exact times and places of the protests in various cities to suppress them.

It is worth noting that the Islamic Republic announced an “emergency situation” to close schools and some governmental offices and shut off the internet to put a quick end to the protests.

Second: Participating organizations and armed groups in suppressing the November 2019 protests

Which organizations and armed groups in Iran participated in the suppression of the November 2019 protests?

In Iran, there are different armed forces and institutions with various types of authority and activities. Some of these entities consist of many sub-organizations, such as the Law Enforcement Force of the IRI and the IRGC. In addition to the formal and generally known military forces, there are informal forces about which there is limited information, if any, about their authority and legal activities.

The most important armed forces in Iran with the role to react against street-urban protests and riots is law enforcement and their special forces sub-organization. Still, in cases of security issues or widespread protests such as November 2019 and January 2018, there are other armed forces and institutions which assisted the Law Enforcement Force of the IRI.

🔻 Below is a list of institutions and organizations with a confirmed role in the suppression of the November 2019 protests:

■ Law Enforcement Force of the IRI : Special Forces Unit of NAJA, NOPO (Wilayat Guardian Special Force), Prevention Police, Iranian Police Criminal Investigation Department, Iranian Security Police (PAVA), and Iranian Cyber Police (FATA)
■ The Revolutionary Guard including: Basij, Basij of Nomads, IRGC Intelligence Organization, and Intelligence Protection Organization of the IRGC
■ Ministry of Intelligence (VAJA)
■ NAKHSA (Spontaneous forces of the Islamic Lands): their organizational affiliation is unclear
■ Plainclothes forces

In previous protests, such as those after the results of the 2009 presidential election or in January 2018, the role and presence of plainclothes forces was very prominent. During the November 2019 protests, the Law Enforcement Force replaced them and were at the forefront of the suppression. Therefore, the role of the Law Enforcement Force in suppressing the protests is quite visible, as apparent in hundreds of videos and pictures.

Bandar Mahshahr witnessed the most severe suppression and killing of the protesters. On the morning of Monday, 18 November 2019, the forces of the NAJA Special Unit arrived at the scene of protests in vehicles equipped with DShK (a Soviet heavy machine gun). Shortly thereafter, security forces began firing at the protesters.

🔻 The following is a video showing forces open fire on protesters hiding in the reeds in Mahshahr:

Firing at the protesters who were hiding in the reeds in Mahshahr — 18 November 2019

Fearing the Law Enforcement Force, protesters took refuge in the reeds of the city near the road between Besat (Mamko) and Chamran (Djarahi) towns to Mahshahr. Special forces then fired upon these protesters with automatic and heavy weapons such as DShK. Many news outlets, including The New York Times and France 24, mistakenly reported that protesters in the Mahshahr reeds had been killed by the Revolutionary Guard, while the published video of the massacre shows the armored vehicles of the Special Unit Forces of the NAJA, one of the subdivisions of the Law Enforcement Force.

Upon further inspection, it is obvious that the logo on the doors appear to be the logo of the “Command of Special Units of NAJA.”

The image below, also published by the Mehr News Agency, shows one of the trucks armed with DShK belonging to the “Special Units.” The logo of the Law Enforcement Force appears in the middle, and “Command of the Special” and “Units of NAJA” on each side of the logo.

The picture below places the logo on a car belonging to Mehr News Agency and the logo from the Mahshahr video side by side. This shows that a Law Enforcement Force logo is in the middle with two inscriptions written on each side.

In its article “Holding the memorial of 1,200 martyrs of the Special Unit of the NAJA in Lorestan (a border province),” De’fa (Defense) Press shows another vehicle equipped with the DShK weapon of the Special Forces. This vehicle’s top cover is similar to the one seen in the Mahshahr video. Like that one, it is also black with soil-colored camouflage.

Although heavy equipment like the DShK is not part of the Special Forces’ organizational weapons to control and suppress urban riots and protests, it seems that they use heavy weapons in sensitive border areas.

Special Units’ trucks are mostly black while the ones belonging to the Revolutionary Guard are primarily white without the logo of this military institution on them. In some cases, that logo is printed on these pickup trucks (below) and is completely different from what is seen in the Mahshahr video.

By comparing these two logos and placing a screenshot from the Mahshahr truck footage and the IRGC trucks side by side, the difference is obvious.

Top image: The Special Unit’s vehicle in the Mahshahr video
Bottom image: The IRGC Special Forces vehicle
Roya Boroumand, the executive director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation

👉🏽 The importance of documenting the role of institutions that participated in killing and suppressing protesters
Considering the obvious difference between the logos of the Special Unit and the Revolutionary Guard on the vehicles equipped with DShK, it is clear that Special Unit trucks fired on the protesters in Mahshahr. However, this does not mean the absence of the IRGC in Mahshahr or other cities during the November protests.
Roya Boroumand, the Executive Director of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, which has made a significant effort in recent years to document human rights violations in Iran, told Zamaneh that there are several purposes for documenting human rights violations:
“…among them is the revelation of the reality that this is both very important for families in terms of prestige, and also allows the community to be aware of what happened and to know how to prevent such incidents from happening again. Another goal is to bring to justice those who violated human rights and to compensate victims and ensure their rights. But the most important thing in documenting to prevent the recurrence of such catastrophes is to fully clarify the truth of what happened, who ordered it and who decided it. Without this information, it will not be possible to determine what legal and practical actions are necessary for enough transparency and guarantees in institutions (such as security and decision-making ones), and to prevent such catastrophes from happening again in the future.”
According to Roya Boroumand, the nature of what the Abdul Rahman Boroumand Foundation and many other human rights organizations do is based on the question, “Who did what against whom and why?” Therefore, they try to document the answer. Working within the framework of this question, it is necessary to know which organizations have played a role in violating the rights of people. For example, which forces are arresting, and which forces are shooting during the demonstrations? Boroumand emphasizes the need to identify these individuals and institutions:
“Many times, military groups are on the scene and not in uniform. For example, in Latin America, to identify these militant groups, [protesters] checked what their boots looked like, because their clothes did not say what institution they belonged to. In other words, different attempts were made to know where these groups came from to suppress the people and what institution led them. In the case of Iran, we are still in the first step. First, we must find out who killed them. Sometimes, by identifying the type of bullets and weapons used, it is possible to find out which institution uses these kinds of weapons.”
This human rights activist told Zamaneh that such investigation should essentially be field research, and that it is necessary to speak with individuals and relevant authorities. She said, “Unfortunately, conducting such systematic research is not possible in Iran at the moment.” It is for this reason that it is important to identify the groups and institutions which played a role in the suppression and killing of protesters during the November 2019 protests: to use the truth for justice and realize the rights of the victims.

In addition to the IRGC, other forces had a part in the suppression of these protests. Some of these forces included its subsidiary institutions such as the Basij and Basij of Nomads. Although the presence of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij in suppressing popular protests is precedented, the November 2019 protests marked the first time that the Basij of Nomads’ forces participated in this activity.

The picture below shows one of the plainclothes forces, most likely a Basiji, in Tehran holding a gun.

Jaś van Driel, an independent expert on weapons and related laws in the Netherlands and a lecturer at the Toga Academy, examined the photo below for Zamaneh. Van Driel assessed that the weapon was a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun. According to van Driel this weapon is one of the most common pieces of police equipment, and it is capable of firing lead, plastic, or small tear gas bullets.

Aftab News Agency published a image report showing the anti-riot exercise of the Basij forces of the Saheb al-Zaman security unit in the presence of Commander Ali Fadavi, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the IRGC. This exercise took place one day after the end of the suppression of the November protests, on 22 November 2019. In these images, the same shotgun can be seen being used by the Basij security unit forces in Tehran.

In addition to this picture, a video published on Saturday, 16 November 2019 of the Korei Unit of Basij forces showed a large number of Basij forces in plainclothes with protective helmets, shields and sticks. In the video, they explain to the man filming that they are there to “suppress the rioter.”

The Korei Unit of Basij forces in Fars Province preparing to suppress protesters — 15 November 2019

The Korei Unit belongs to the Ali Ibn Abi Talib Basij Resistance Force Unit of Korei in the center of Sarchahan district. The location of this video is unknown, but the small town of Korei is 200 kilometers from Shiraz. Given the severity and widespread nature of the protests in Shiraz, the Basij forces were likely sent there. This video is one of the most important pieces of evidence available that documents the presence of Basij forces to suppress the protesters.

A picture from the blog of Ali Ibn Abi Talib Basij Resistance Unit in the city of Korei

Sajjad Karami, a former member of the Special Unit forces for anti-riot police in Kermanshah city, provided an eyewitness account to Zamaneh that the IRGC used both the nomad and rural Basij to suppress the street protests.

According to Karami, the Law Enforcement Force was never capable of controlling the widespread protests and the IRGC, Basij, and the intelligence service always aid those forces.

He says about using Basij in suppressing protests:

“They brought the nomads to different places and gave them big sticks. They are paid 300,000 Tomans and food per day of service.”

The IRGC used the Basij unit of Korehi in Fars Province, which consisted of Basij members in different villages of Korehi region. This tactic is a clear example of the use of these forces in times of crisis.

In addition to the official and well-known institutions mentioned above, there were other groups involved in the suppression of the November protests. For example, NAKHSA, also played a role. In Farsi, NAKHSA stands for the “Spontaneous Forces of the Islamic Lands” or the “Spontaneous Forces of the Islamic Corps.” This militia group has not yet been officially introduced and it is unclear to which security-military institutions it belongs.

The Twitter account and Telegram channel, “Nab Jihadi” and “We’ll hit Haifa with a rocket,” belong to NAKHSA group. The group used these platforms to publish content and pictures of their presence among security forces in an attempt suppress protesters. After a few days, all of these images were removed.

On the first anniversary of the November protests, 14 November 2020 (left picture), NAKHSA’s Twitter account republished one of the posts that they had previously deleted on 26 November 2019 (right picture) with a different caption.

In this Twitter post, NAKHSA published photos of three different places with the group’s logo held by its members and announced their presence in the University of Tehran, the city of Malard, and Amirkabir University.

NAKHSA group’s Twitter posts about the suppression of the November 2019 protests

The city of Malard, where NAKHSA forces announced their presence to suppress the protesters, was one of the cities where the suppression was severe and violent. According to Amnesty International, approximately 35 people were killed in this small town, many of whom were shot in the head.

Among those killed in Malard were: Ameneh Shahbazi-Fard, Farhad Mojaddam (through approval of his relatives in an interview with Zamaneh), Milad Mohagheghi, Mohammad Moein Salehi, Ramin Lamseh, Reza Tarivardi (through the approval of his relatives in an interview with Zamaneh).

The members of NAKHSA refer to themselves as skilled forces. Unlike the logos of other security organizations and militia groups, their logo includes a sniper rifle. The logos of other groups usually feature Kalashnikovs. Most of the pictures that have been published of the members of this group show them armed with sniper rifles.

The NAKHSA Telegram Channel also published a photo of this militia group’s equipment, showing that the sniper rifle is the only weapon used by this militia group.

The sniper rifle that NAKHSA introduced as its members’ equipment in the picture below is the Soviet-made “Dragunov” sniper rifle.

NAKHSA Group’s Equipment — from NAKHSA’s Telegram Channel

In considering the presence of the NAKHSA forces in the city of Malard and the -+

number of people who were shot in the head and died there, a question arises: Did the Spontaneous Forces of the Islamic Lands target protesters with snipers while suppressing the November 2019 protests?

Targeting and shooting a person’s head compared to other parts of the body requires specialized skills, and it is difficult to be done at distance or with ordinary weapons.

The members of NAKHSA refer to themselves as loyalists to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Commander Qassem Soleimani who are ready to take part in various operations without organizational affiliation or salary. The group described the reasons for its formation on its Telegram channel “Nab Jihadi:”

“Beginning of activity: The formation of NAKHSA dates back to 2009 during the sedition to support the Islamic system, which began to work spontaneously in Tehran and several other cities and prevented the creation of sedition and moving of its enemies inside the country, and also strengthened and stabilized the system at that time.”

NAKHSA also has a history of presence in Syria, and its members indicate that Mostafa Sadrzadeh formed its overseas branch. A video released by NAKHSA introduced Sadrzadeh by the jihadist name Seyyed Ibrahim, saying that he was as one of the first commanders of the group. This video indicated that he was the Iranian commander of the Ammar battalion of the Fatimid division. Sadrzadeh was killed in Aleppo during the Moharram operation.

NAKHSA introduces itself as the “spontaneous” forces of the Islamic Guard Corps or Islamic lands with no affiliation to any particular organization or institution. However, on 15 November 2016, Daneshjoo News Agency interviewed the administrator of the “Nab Jihadi- NAKHSA” Telegram channel called, Meqdad.

When asked if they were “arbitrary” or “spontaneous” forces, Meqdad described NAKHSA members as “followers of the supreme leader’s words.” Although Meqdad called NAKHSA forces “spontaneous,” he said that they are fighting “under the supervision of the Revolutionary Guard” in Syria and Iraq.

The administrator of the NAKHSA’s Telegram channel describes this militia group as having a type of ideology that they are trying to spread among the youth. He said:

“Look! What we say is that in times of emergency, until the official institutions take actions, everyone can do whatever they can. Imam Khomeini also says that until the authorities start to do something, the people themselves should act.”

A paradox is evident in what the administrators of NAKHSA’s channel think and do. Elsewhere in his talk, Meqdad emphasized that “they are not doing anything against the orders of Imam Khamenei” and said, “[they] are fighting on all fronts under the flag of an officially-known military organization.”

In fact, these spontaneous forces are arbitrary or, according to Ali Khamenei, “fire-at-will.” The point is that they feel free to act as individuals and groups in emergency situations, informally controlled by the IRGC while also trying to present themselves as independent and non-affiliated. It also seems that NAKHSA maintains the choice of how and when to react to various events based on the “thinking” that they believe in.

There are also two videos confirming NAKHSA’s presence in Golestan 7 street to violently suppress the Gonabadi Dervishes in March 2018. Although this group had previously posted videos and pictures on its social media accounts, it later deleted them.

Presence of NAKHSA forces in Golestan 7 street to suppress Gonabadi Dervishes in 2018

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NAKHSA forces have also played a major role in organizing volunteers to disinfect public places and distribute food in hospitals.Another image showing that the Iranian regime and security agencies approve of this group is a picture of the NAKHSA flag in one of the salavati stations and cultural stations from the 11 February 2020 march in Tehran.

NAKHSA flag in one of salavati stations and cultural stations on 11 February 2020’s march — Photo source: “Nab Jihadi” Telegram Channel

NAKHSA, also known as the Nab Jihadi, is not yet well-known, and no information is available on the description of its official duties, the scope of its mission, or its institutional affiliations. What is clear is that these skilled and unknown forces are used for various purposes, from suppressing protests to proxy wars outside of Iran.

To conclude, it is clear that the regime used formal and informal security forces to control and stop the protests in the shortest possible time in the name of security. Shutting off the internet allowed them to carry out their entrusted missions in the shadow of silence and ignorance.



Zamaneh Media

‏Zamaneh Media is a Persian language media organization based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. READ MORE: