We're accustomed to thinking of ISIS/ISIL as the major source of fundamentalist Islamic terrorism in the world today. However, the rise of their self-proclaimed Caliphate has obscured another, equally (if not more) dangerous fundamentalist threat: Iran's Quds Force.
StrategyPage has an interesting in-depth article about Quds.
Iran has long had a secretive group of specialists who could go overseas and organize pro-Iran mischief. This is the secretive Quds Force, which belongs to the IRGC (the Iranian Republican Guard Corps.) Also known as the Pasdaran, the IRGC is a paramilitary force of about 100,000 full timers that insures that any anti-government activity inside Iran is quickly eliminated. To assist the Pasdaran, there is a part-time, volunteer force, several hundred thousand Basej, which can provide additional manpower when street muscle is required. The Basej are usually young, Islamic conservative men, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If opponents to the government stage a large demonstration, it will often be broken up by Basej, in civilian clubs, using fists and clubs. But outside Iran, the IRGC depends on the Quds Force to look after Iranian interests and create local versions of the Basej.
The Quds Force is a full time operation, of men trained to spread the Islamic revolution outside Iran. The Quds force has a major problem in that they are spreading a Shia Islamic revolution, while only 15 percent of Moslems are Shia. Most of the rest are Sunni, and many of those consider Shia heretics. In several countries, there is constant violence between Shia and Sunni radicals. This has been going on long before the clerics took control of Iran in 1979, which was more than a decade before the Sunni (al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s.
The core operatives of the Quds force comprises only a few thousand people. But many of them are highly educated, most speak foreign languages, and all are Islamic radicals. They are on a mission from God to convert the world to Shia Islam, and the rule of Shia clergy. The Quds Force has been around since the 1980s, and their biggest success has been in Lebanon, where they helped local Shia (who comprise about a third of the population) form the Hezbollah organization.
The Quds Force has eight departments, each assigned to a different part of the world. While the one that works in the Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan area have been the most successful, the other departments have been hard at it for three decades. The Palestine/Lebanon/Jordan department went into high gear in 2012 when a rebellion against the pro-Iran Syrian government made unexpected gains. For the next two years saving pro-Iranian Syria was the main task of Quds.
The Western Directorate has established a recruiting and fund raising network in Western nations. Many recruits are brought back to Iran for training, while Shia migrants are encouraged to donate money, and services, to Quds Force operations. Because many of these operations are considered terrorist operations, Quds Force is banned in many Western nations. Currently Quds operatives in the West are monitoring what ISIL is up to there and recruiting local Shia Moslems to fight ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
There's more at the link.
In a long and very detailed (and very interesting) assessment of the Quds Force commanding officer, Qassem Suleimani, the New Yorker also examined the organization's expansion.
In 1998, Suleimani was named the head of the Quds Force, taking over an agency that had already built a lethal résumé: American and Argentine officials believe that the Iranian regime helped Hezbollah orchestrate the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992, which killed twenty-nine people, and the attack on the Jewish center in the same city two years later, which killed eighty-five. Suleimani has built the Quds Force into an organization with extraordinary reach, with branches focussed on intelligence, finance, politics, sabotage, and special operations. With a base in the former U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran, the force has between ten thousand and twenty thousand members, divided between combatants and those who train and oversee foreign assets. Its members are picked for their skill and their allegiance to the doctrine of the Islamic Revolution (as well as, in some cases, their family connections). According to the Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, fighters are recruited throughout the region, trained in Shiraz and Tehran, indoctrinated at the Jerusalem Operation College, in Qom, and then “sent on months-long missions to Afghanistan and Iraq to gain experience in field operational work. They usually travel under the guise of Iranian construction workers.”
After taking command, Suleimani strengthened relationships in Lebanon, with Mughniyeh and with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s chief. By then, the Israeli military had occupied southern Lebanon for sixteen years, and Hezbollah was eager to take control of the country, so Suleimani sent in Quds Force operatives to help. “They had a huge presence—training, advising, planning,” Crocker said. In 2000, the Israelis withdrew, exhausted by relentless Hezbollah attacks. It was a signal victory for the Shiites, and, Crocker said, “another example of how countries like Syria and Iran can play a long game, knowing that we can’t.”
Since then, the regime has given aid to a variety of militant Islamist groups opposed to America’s allies in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The help has gone not only to Shiites but also to Sunni groups like Hamas—helping to form an archipelago of alliances that stretches from Baghdad to Beirut. “No one in Tehran started out with a master plan to build the Axis of Resistance, but opportunities presented themselves,” a Western diplomat in Baghdad told me. “In each case, Suleimani was smarter, faster, and better resourced than anyone else in the region. By grasping at opportunities as they came, he built the thing, slowly but surely.”
Again, more at the link.
A self-proclaimed 'former CIA spy' has alleged that the Quds Force is expanding its activities in South America, and infiltrating the USA as well.
The radicals ruling Iran, ever since the Islamic Revolution, have invested heavily to expand their field of operations in Europe and America. I witnessed their activities when, as a member of the Revolutionary Guards, I was also a CIA spy. Every Iranian embassy, Islamic cultural centers, mosques, offices of Iran Air, Iranian shipping lines, Iranian banks, and many front companies dealing with Iran are being used by the Iranian Quds Forces and intelligence agency for recruitment, transfer of arms and cash, and terrorist activities.
They have successfully placed many cells in Europe and, through ties with the Hugo Chávez government in Venezuela, have placed hundreds of Quds Force members along with Hezb'allah terrorists in front companies in Venezuela. Iran has set up an explosives lab in Venezuela for its cells with the knowledge of the Chávez government. In return, the Iranian regime has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Chávez.
These cells, through collaboration with drug cartels, have infiltrated Latin America and have even set up shop in Mexico, from where, in a coordinated effort, they are infiltrating the United States.
More at the link. Whilst I'm cautious about the legitimacy of this source, I have no doubt that any self-respecting fundamentalist Islamic force would place a high priority on infiltrating the 'Great Satan', as they view this country, with a view to disrupting any US operations against its homeland or religion. Many other sources (for example, this report) confirm that Hezbollah (a Quds Force client organization) is rapidly expanding its operations in South America, which would tie in with Iranian activity as well.
All in all, we'd do well not to lose sight of the threat of terrorism posed by the Quds Force. Once groups of operatives are in place, they can switch from passive intelligence-gathering to active terrorism at the drop of the proverbial hat: and I suspect the Quds Force is a lot better trained and equipped, and a much more formidable threat, than ISIS/ISIL fanatics.