A retired Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) general has claimed that Iran used the humanitarian relief organization Iranian Red Crescent to carry out Guards' operations in Europe in the 1990s, including working with terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
In a recent interview on Iranian state TV, General Saeed Ghasemi [Persian video] claimed that during the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, under the cover of the Red Crescent, the Revolutionary Guards trained jihadist forces in the former Yugoslav province and cooperated with Al-Qaeda in Europe. He added that the jihadists trained by the Guards posed as Red Crescent personnel, using their uniforms and flags. Although Al-Qaeda did not use the Red Crescent emblems, the group also employed phony humanitarian branding as part of its operations in Europe.
Ghasemi explained that the jihadists trained in Bosnia and Herzegovina were drawn from Tunisian and German Muslims. “We were there, posing as members of the Red Crescent, to provide military training to Mujahideen forces,” he said.
In response to General Ghasemi’s statement, the Iranian Red Crescent released a statement saying that it never allows military forces to use its uniforms or its insignia.
“According to the four treaties of the Geneva Convention, we are neutral in armed conflicts because our task is to support humanity and to help civilians,” the statement said. “If an individual or an organization has used the uniform and the insignia of Iran’s Red Crescent Society, it must have been without [our] cooperation.”
This is the first time that a member of the Revolutionary Guards has publicly spoken of training jihadists and cooperating with Al-Qaeda and its use of the Red Crescent as a cover to avoid attention. The development poses two dangers to Iran.
The 1990s war in Bosnia between Yugoslav Muslims and Serbs turned into an international conflict and led to the massacre of around 100,000 Bosnian Muslims. The International Criminal Court has since tried Serbian military leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
During the war, Iran deployed military personnel to Bosnia, including the IRGC general Mohammad Reza Naghdi and Hossein Allah-Karam, the commander of Ansar-e Hezbollah, an Iranian paramilitary organization. At least three Iranian soldiers were killed in that conflict.
Al-Qaeda was responsible for both the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The US has tried repeatedly to present Iran as an Al-Qaeda ally but has yet to make the charges stick. And until now Iran has never confirmed that it trained jihadists in Bosnia or that it had cooperated with Al-Qaeda.
The US government may now consider using Ghasemi’s claims to support its argument that Iran and Al-Qaeda also cooperated in more recent years.
A court in New York has already ordered Iran to pay damages to 9/11 victims, based on available evidence; now, after Ghasemi’s statement, US courts may also find new grounds to issue rulings against Iran and to demand further reparations for the 9/11 attacks.
The Bigger Danger
On April 8, US President Donald Trump placed the Revolutionary Guards on the US government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs), alongside Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by both houses of the US Congress shortly after the 9/11 attacks, allows the US president to take military action against 9/11-related targets without prior authorization from Congress. To do this, the president, as commander-in-chief of US armed forces, must show that the intended target of the military action had been involved in supporting, planning and executing the attacks.
The Trump Administration has, meanwhile, abandoned the nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. These moves were further consolidated when it designated the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization. It is the first time that the US has labeled the military of a UN member state as a terrorist organization. Now, if the Trump Administration can show that the Authorization for Use of Military Force applies to one or more Iranian entities, it would gain considerable freedom to act toward taking military measures against Iran without needing to go to the country’s divided Congress.
A further danger posed by Ghasemi’s story concerns the hijacking of the Red Crescent for military purposes. The Geneva Convention treaties and protocols say that members of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent are neutral parties in conflicts and cannot take sides.
The red emblems of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, vivid against a white background, are the symbol of help for the injured and the sick in insecure situations. These emblems are affixed to uniforms, equipment, vehicles and buildings, so that these aid workers can be protected from possible attacks. The Geneva Convention clearly states that the emblem can only be used with the express permission of the relevant authorities. Violations of this rule or the abuse of the emblem can destroy the credibility of a country’s Red Crescent or Red Cross and turn its workers into targets.
In rejecting Ghasemi’s claims about the role played by the Revolutionary Guards in Bosnia, complete with fake humanitarian emblems, Iran’s Red Crescent is trying to safeguard its name, reputation and especially its ability to work in conflict zones.
Ghasemi’s statement exposes Iran to possible military intervention by the United States — even as it undermines the aid workers who would be needed to help people after such an attack.
Trump Designates Revolutionary Guards a Terrorist Organization, April 10, 2019
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards infographic
IranWire's Revolutionary Guards interactive diagram
The IRGC Security and Intelligence Agencies, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Ground Forces, April 0, 2019
The IRGC Quds Force, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Navy, April 9, 2019
The IRGC Aerospace Force, April 9, 2019