Wave of online solidarity in Iran for soldiers held by jihadists
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Photomontage of a picture of hostages shared on the Jaish al-Adl insurgents’ Twitter account.
On February 8, the photos of five captive Iranian soldiers were posted on social networks. The photos were published on Twitter and blog accounts of Sunni insurgents from Jaish al-Adl ('The Army of Justice'), a fundamentalist group based on the Pakistani-Iranian border that claims to be holding the men hostage. The online reaction in Iran was swift: in quick succession users lashed out against the alleged kidnappers, the government and Twitter itself.
The Baloch insurgent group Jaish al-Adl was created roughly one year ago to promote a fundamentalist Sunni Islamic ideology. The group also advocate autonomy from Iran's overwhelmingly Shiite state. In turn, the Iranian government says the group is a terrorist organisation. The group’s members—only a fraction of whom are Iranian—operate mainly in the Sistan and Balochistan areas, a key transit point for drugs originating from nearby Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In this photo, the soldiers can be seen photographed in front of a banner on which is written an Islamic tenet: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger”. The saying is also written on the flags of members of al Qaeda. The group's signature – “Iran’s Justice Army” – is featured below the white sword.
The Iranian authorities say that the men were on military service serving as border guards in the area. According to the above Twitter user, posting inexperienced soldiers to dangerous areas poses obvious risks. Indeed, drug trafficking and armed groups are commonplace in regions that straddle the country's border with Pakistan.
Web-savvy Iranians, such as the Twitter user above, are turning to the Internet to draw attention to the plight of the soldiers by using the hashtag #FreeIranianSoldiers.
Other commentators have slammed Twitter’s passive response to the group, who have used the social networking site to flaunt their captives. According to one of our Iranian Observers, some Iranians have taken matters into their own hands by successfully shutting down the Persian version of Jaish al-Adl’s Facebook page. But despite that, a page still exists in Arabic.