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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Who are Iran's Islamic vigilantes?
By Sadeq Saba
BBC regional analyst

Broken doors of the students room at the Hemmat dormitory of the Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran
Students have been attacked with knives
As anti-government demonstrations escalate in Iran, the hardline authorities are using Islamic vigilantes to suppress the students and their supporters.

During the fourth night of protests in the capital Tehran, armed plain-clothes groups raided university hostels injuring a number of students.

They attacked other protesters with clubs and chains.

The militants pledge loyalty to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Conservatives in the Iranian leadership for many years have been using hardline Islamic groups as one of the most effective tools to suppress any challenge to their rule.

Whenever there is a pro-democracy gathering, members of this shadowy organisation are brought to the scene.

Islamic mob

They normally arrive on motorcycles, wielding knives, chains and clubs.

They are young men with distinctive features such as beards and untucked shirts.

Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's conservative religious leader

Their sheer presence causes panic. They attack their opponents viciously.

It is widely believed in Iran that the vigilantes are paid and organised by people close to Ayatollah Khamenei.

They are fiercely loyal to him, and see their role as defending Islamic values and the Iranian revolution.

'Unaccountable'

Because of their powerful connections, they feel free to openly attack their opponents without any fear of prosecution.

They are not like the normal police force, which is accountable for its actions.

And the hardline authorities often portray these militia forces as the true representatives of the Iranian people.

But most Iranians regard them as young thugs.

Therefore, as general discontent increases in Iran the action of these militant groups could backfire.


SEE ALSO:
Uneasy calm on Tehran streets
14 Jun 03  |  Middle East
Iran's youth seek future overseas
29 May 03  |  Middle East
Iran MPs attack student punishments
10 Mar 03  |  Middle East
Iran's youth reveal anger and sadness
10 Dec 02  |  Middle East
The modern face of Iran
02 Nov 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Iran
06 Nov 02  |  Country profiles
Iranian protesters remain resolute
14 Jun 03  |  Middle East


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