Security and Foreign Policy

The Netherlands and The ASMLA

The shooting in Ahvaz, Iran targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has drawn attention towards the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (ASMLA). Yaela Collins examines the ASMLA and its Dutch ties.

BY: YAELA COLLINS

On September 22, gunmen opened fire at a “Sacred Defense Week” military parade in Ahvaz, Iran. The assailants donned military uniforms and carried out a 10-minute attack that left more than two dozen people dead and 70 more injured. The majority of victims were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.  In the days following the incident, there were several allegations circulating about who was actually to blame. Iranian President Rouhani accused “an unnamed U.S. allied country in the Persian Gulf,” while ISIS released a video claiming responsibility. Turns out, Rouhani’s guess was not as far off as most of us would have liked.

The militant group that executed the assault, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz (ASMLA), was traced back to Delft, Netherlands. Delft is located in South Holland, between Den Haag and Rotterdam. It is known for being a quainat city and the home of painter Johannes Vermeer. Delft may also sound familiar as it is the namesake of typically Dutch Delft Blue pottery.

Recently, surges of populist rhetoric championed by Geert Wilders, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and race related violence have been challenging the Dutch reputation of tolerance. Overt discrimination against people of color have led to their marginalization, and subsequently to the formation of gangs, terrorist groups, and vigilante groups like ASMLA. However, ASMLA is not a typical violent organization. The faction does not operate in secret, it can be found on the Delft Chamber of Commerce and researchers can easily access the ASMLA website.

Formed in 2005, the Ba’athist group and its armed counterpart, Martyr Mohye al-Din al-Nasir Brigade (MMDNB), supposedly represent the Arab population of Khuzestan. Normally, ASMLA uses soft target strikes and bombings as preferred methods of attack, so the shooting in Ahvaz was out of character. Since uncovering the true affiliation of the shooters, Iran has accused the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK of “sheltering Iranian opposition groups.” The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs reportedly offered condolences for the attack and acknowledged that there was an exchange with Iran.

So here’s where things get even more complicated. Iran, Sudan, Syria and DPRK currently sit on the U.S. Department of State list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The international community has also vehemently condemned passive state sponsorship through the provision of safe havens for terrorists by countries like Afghanistan. Should the Netherlands be added to the list of antagonists? If ASMLA was residing in any country outside of North America and the EU, sanctions and condemnations would be flying around the international community.

Examinations of the Dutch dilemma flew under the radar, but this lack of publicity should not diminish the importance of what happens next. If the international community decides to do nothing, this event will serve as solidification that there is in fact a global double standard. Affirming that wealthy Western countries can circumvent punishment while others must deal with harsh penalties for similar offences, would severely threaten the efficacy of international governing bodies. On the other hand, if the Netherlands is chastised, and officially dubbed a state sponsor of terrorism, it will truly prove that it is indeed a strange time for international relations.


Yaela Collins is currently working at The Bassiouni Group where she engages in security and development research and business management consulting focused on sustainability. She received her BA in International Relations with a focus on Developing World from the State University of New York College at Geneseo and a M.S. in Global Affairs from New York University.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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