After Sunni insurgent group Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) took credit for kidnapping five Iranian border guards, Iranians on Twitter began an online campaign for their release with the hashtag #FreeIranianSoldiers.
Jaish ul-Adl, which operates between the border of Iran and Pakistan, took credit for the kidnapping by tweeting pictures of the soldiers on their account. There is another Twitter account affiliated with the group that has not tweeted since Aug. 25, 2013. Their previous blog on Blogspot, where they have announced previous attacks, is no longer available. However, it appears they have started a new blog where they posted more pictures of the soldiers.
— جيش العدل (@BalouchRightsAd) February 8, 2014
In October 2013, the group took credit for killing 14 Iranian conscripts in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province. The group claims to be defending the rights of Iranian Baloch, who have long been economically deprived, and Iranian Sunnis and has condemned Iran for supporting the Syrian government.
What has angered many Iranians online is that the group has on both occasions targeted conscripts. Four of the five kidnapped soldiers are believed to be conscripts while one is a regular in the army. Iran has mandatory military service for all males and the border guards in all likelihood have been assigned that post against their own will. In contrast, Iranians who have fought in Syria belong to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qud Force and have sought out assignments to fight in Syria.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran over the kidnapping. Iran has long complained to Pakistan to do more to stop terrorists from crossing their border into Iran. The last prominent Sunni group to carry out major attacks against Iran was Jundullah, which began carrying out attacks in 2003, but they no longer exist after their leader Abdul-Malek Riggi was executed in Iran in 2010.
In addition to condemning the group for kidnapping soldiers, many Iranians criticized the head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Ezatollah Zarghami for not giving the abduction coverage. Many others lamented that since they are Iranian soldiers, the world pays less attention. A few young men criticized the mandatory military service and swore they would altogether avoid it. Many also pointed the blame at Saudi Arabia, believing that it is them who support Salafi groups committing these terrorist acts. Some others also criticized the government for sending conscripts into such dangerous territory that requires specialists and highly trained soldiers. The presidential candidate of 2013, Mohammad Reza Aref, is one of the few Iranian officials to tweet in support of the abducted soldiers.
the Iranian soldiers are defending our borders for, our Justice, security and peace #FreeIranianSoldiers
— MohammadRezaAref (@MohamadRezaAref) February 9, 2014
Journalist Sadra Mohaqeq tweeted #FreeIranianSoldiers and added, “Robert Gates in his autobiography wrote that in his meeting with [Saudi King] Malek Abdullah, that he wanted the US to attack Iran.”
رابرت گیتس در کتاب خاطراتش درباره دیدار سال 2007 با ملک عبدالله نوشته او خواستار حمله ای همه جانبه به ایران است #FreeIranianSoldiers
— Sadraa Mohaqeq (@SadraMohaqeq) February 9, 2014
Iranian journalist Sadegh Ghorbani responded to Twitter users blaming the Iranian army for their policies:
— Sadegh Ghorbani (@GhorbaniSadegh) February 9, 2014
Many Iranians were angry that Twitter allows Jaish al-Adl to post pictures of abducted soldiers, while others report the account to get it suspended:
— آر پی (@alirp88) February 9, 2014
The Jaish al-Adl Twitter handle began taking photos of those tweets and tweeting their replies. Many asked the group to either not kill the soldiers and at least exchange their fighters being held by the Iranian government. Others however, warned them that they would have the same fate as Jundullah.
While Twitter in Iran is blocked, many still access the site via VPNs. Iranians on two separate occasions have united for spontaneous online campaings, once against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mocking him for his statements that Iranians don’t have access to blue jeans. And another time, when the website of the supreme leader published a poster that said the “2009 sedition was unforgivable.”