IRGC-controlled Afghan group loses fighter to COVID-19

An Afghan paramilitary group that answers to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Fatemiyoun Division, announced on Aug. 16 that one of its fighters has died as a result of COVID-19. That statement appears to be the first official confirmation of the pandemic’s existence among the Fatemiyoun’s ranks.

Mohammad Amin Sadeghi (Abu Heydar) was one of the group’s most experienced fighters – and one of the first to join the group when it formed in 2013. According to a Fatemiyoun eulogy, he was an Afghan migrant residing in Damascus, where he was buried.

In recent months, the group has heavily publicized efforts to combat the pandemic in Syria and Iran. However, in April, it had publicized two units stationed in Syria commemorating a religious holiday with sports tournaments without implementing any apparent social-distancing measures. Sadeghi’s death raised the question about how widespread the virus is among Fatemiyoun, as well as the Guard Corps in Syria.

The paramilitary group also recently buried two fighters, who have died under mysterious circumstances, in a ceremony in Mashhad, Iran. The timing of those burials and lack of transparency raised the question whether the two died because of COVID-19, though Israeli strikes could also explain the deaths. Abdol-Ali Hosseini was “martyred” – a phrase reserved for fighters fallen in battle – in Damascus on July 18, according to the Fatemiuyoun.

No insurgent group has claimed Hosseini’s death, and there hasn’t been fighting with insurgent forces in the area for some time. Israeli airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus were reported on July 20. Hosseini was buried alongside another “martyr,” Alireza Naimi, about whom no information was immediately provided. Recent confirmed Fatemiyoun deaths have been usually the results of Islamic State booby traps, at least as far as the Fatemiyoun says. The circumstances surrounding the publicized deaths of Hosseini and Naimi make it possible that the two died in Israeli airstrikes. The IRGC has tended to not publicize deaths from Israeli strikes, in one instance in 2018 an IRGC-linked news agency retracted a report that confirmed eight Iranians died in an attack.

Amir Toumaj is a independent analyst and contributor to FDD's Long War Journal.

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