After Zhina (Mahsa) Amini was killed in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s “morality police” and the nationwide uprising followed with the motto “Woman, Life, Freedom”, the Islamic Republic’s security forces were immediately dispatched to suppress the protests. Since then, hundreds of citizens have been killed and thousands injured in the bloody crackdown.
Numerous videos show security forces openly firing at unarmed protestors with lethal weapons and shotguns. In response, the authorities have shamelessly supported these brutal acts, claiming that “security” is their “redline”. The lack of any real measure of accountability for this blatant disregard for human rights has made these brute forces ever more audacious in the full-fledged crackdown on anti-government protesters.
Videos and images of this year’s protests show new forces taking part in never seen before efforts in the clampdown on protests. Speculations as to who these new forces are and their affiliations abound.
Zamaneh previously published an investigative feature article on security forces present during the crackdowns in November 2019 (also known as Bloody November). The infographic below shows an overview of these forces.
Two other groups must be added to the list above of security/military forces:
▪️ Islamic Republic of Iran Army
▪️ Navvab Security Ranger Company or Navvab Special Mission Battalion
In February 2021, the official website of Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, published an interview with General Kioumars Heydari, commander of Iran’s Army Ground Forces, in which Heydari admitted to army forces taking part in squashing the protests.
However, there is still no accurate information about the nature and extent of the role the army forces play in suppressing protests. It is believed that they help Special Forces and the IRGC in the form of relief units.
IRGC forces take active participation in different forms during the crackdowns, namely through their Basij units, plainclothes officers, special units like the ‘’Nakhsa’’ Warriors (Voluntary Forces of the Islamic Lands) and another newly established unit called “Security Commandos”.
Navvab Security Ranger Company in Crackdowns
“Navvab Security Ranger Company” or “Navvab Special Mission Battalion” is a subunit of security units and consists of well-trained elite commandos operating under the command of the Saheb-al-Zaman Security Unit, a section of the Mohammad Rasulullah Corps (IRGC) in Tehran province.
The exact time and purpose of the formation of Navvab Rangers is unknown, but according to an IRGC-linked Telegram channel, the term “security commando” refers to forces that since 2019, and with the establishment of IRGC’s security branch, have been acting as its security units.
According to the same channel, “security commandos” are trained to handle security crisis situations, including hostage rescue operations, anti-terrorism, urban warfare, riot control, providing escort and clearing houses and buildings.
From the information and videos available about Navvab Security Rangers, it can be gathered that the unit was formed for the aim of handling security crisis situations, to conquer Quds and to combat the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK).
The Mohammad Rasulullah Corps in Tehran province is the largest IRGC corps, commanded by Brigadier General Hasan Hassanzadeh, whom on November 14th, 2022, was sanctioned by the UK for “overseeing violent crackdown against protests after Zhina (Mahsa) Amini’s death in custody” and by the United States for “violating human rights during 2022 protests”.
Tehran’s Mohammad Rasulullah Corps was formed following structural changes in the IRGC and the establishment of the IRGC Provincial Corps through merging Mohammad Rasulullah 27 Division with Tehran Provincial Basij forces in the summer of 2008. Currently, Mohammad Rasulullah Corps is under the command of IRGC General Headquarters and is charged with the coordination and command of Basij and the IRGC Ground Forces.
Navvab Security Rangers Company is a subunit of Saheb-al-Zaman Security Unit, itself a part of Tehran’s Mohammad Rasulullah Corps. This unit routinely organizes manoeuvres and military exercises to ensure their forces are ready to quell civil unrest. Such manoeuvres are not only an opportunity to flaunt the weapons and equipment they have at their disposal but also a sabre-rattling show of force for the purpose of intimidation.
Police batons, paintball guns, 33 mm grenade launchers used for firing tear gas, 12-gauge shotguns and Kalashnikovs are among the equipment seen in images and videos available from manoeuvres held by the Saheb-al-Zaman Security Unit.
During recent nationwide protests that have been going on for months now, the use of such equipment has caused numerous deaths. Baton strikes to more vulnerable parts of the body such as the head and the neck as well shots from rubber shotguns and Kalashnikovs are among the main causes of death.
During the protests that followed Zhina (Mahsa) Amini’s murder by the regime, Navvab Rangers were first seen on October 8th, 2022 in Tehran’s Ferdowsi Square. Speculations on social media suspected that these were either army forces or the ‘’IRGC’s Saberin Unit’’. The Saberin Special Battalion and Navvab Security Rangers are both subunits of the IRGC and have many similarities in terms of uniforms, equipment and organizational missions.
Later in the protests, another image showed these forces gathering in front of an entrance at Darvazeh Dolat metro station in Tehran, continuing speculations about their affiliations to either the army or Saberin Unit. While the exact publication date of this photo is unknown, its first record on social media dates back to November 16th, 2022.
In this photo, Navvab Security Rangers logo can be seen on the sleeves of force uniforms as a young girl stands in front of security forces without the mandatory headscarf.
Navvab Security Ranger’s official account on Instagram posted the same picture on November 17th, 2022, implicitly confirming that the forces were taking part in the clampdown, pledging their strong allegiance to the Supreme Leader: “Suffice to say, we are soldiers serving only our Supreme Leader, for whom and for raising the proud flag of our Islamic Revolution we would sacrifice everything we have, even our lives”.
The official announcement of the presence of these forces in the crackdown was made via a promotional video posted on Quds Corps channel on December 14th, 2022. (The Quds Force is one of five branches of Iran’s IRGC).
This video, titled “Pictures of Navvab Security Rangers in action during riots published for the first time” posted by a Quds Force-affiliated media, officially confirmed the battalion’s role in the crackdown of the protests against government.
In this short three-minute video an attempt has been made to depict these forces as elite, well-equipped commandos loyal to the regime who show inclemency and harshness towards protesters while benevolently helping women and girls at the same time.
An important part of the video is footage of the presence of Navvab Rangers in Tehran University. This clearly shows how important it is for the regime and its security institutions to control universities; so important that they would dispatch their most elite forces to suppress protests in universities.
The Nakhsa forces (Voluntary Forces of the Islamic Lands), who have a history of participating in the war in Syria, were also dispatched to universities during protests in November 2019, as well as the recent nationwide protests in 2022.
Based on the videos and images released so far of the Nawab Commandos, the equipment and weapons they carry include:
- Digital camouflage khaki uniforms
- Bulletproof jackets
- Helmet cameras (probably operated by ‘Basir’ Communication System, developed by Iran’s defense industry)
- Two-way radios (Walkie-talkie)
- Shin and elbow guards
- Tear gas cartridges
- 33 mm grenade launchers
- Paintball guns
- Anti-riot shields
- Kalashnikovs (AK-47)
In the above mentioned video, an attempt has been made to show Navvab Rangers carrying less lethal anti-riot weapons such as batons and paintball guns. However, despite this attempt, forces can be spotted carrying clear visible shotguns in many images.
A screenshot from the video of the presence of Navvab Security Rangers in which a shotgun can be seen
This shotgun, most probably a 12 gauge, can be spotted in other images available from Navvab Rangers in operations other than riot control, for instance in the below picture:
In another part of the video, Navvab Rangers charge head first at protesters who are either empty-handed or throwing stones, and start shooting at them with paintball guns. They even shoot at people who are merely shouting slogans in a park.
It can be assumed that Navvab Security Rangers was formed after the protests in November 2019. In most images and videos available from the newly established IRGC forces, they can be seen carrying full military equipment and weapons such as Kalashnikovs, pistols, and shotguns.
Navvab Security Rangers has also released images of their forces training with IRGC Navy forces, showing fairly advanced trainings.
Images of Nawab Commandos being trained by the IRGC naval unit
Crackdowns on protesters using American equipment
Interestingly, Navvab Security Rangers, who consider Israel and the United States their archenemies, make use of American made equipment such as tactical vests, waist bags and drop leg pouches worn on military khaki uniforms.
In a video, Navvab Security Rangers are seen wearing vests and bags from Tactical 5.11, an American brand of tactical gears, footwear and equipment mainly used by the law enforcement officials.
5.11 protective vest worn by a Navvab Security Rangers – Screenshot from a video published by Navvab Security Rangers
Commandos can also be seen wearing SWAT’s drop pouches and waist bags.
Conquerors of Quds and Tirana
Navvab Security Rangers call themselves “Conquerors of Quds and Tirana” (where Ashraf III Camp, headquarters of the MEK is located). Just like Nakhsa (Voluntary Forces of the Islamic Lands), Navvab Security Rangers define destroying Israel and recapturing Quds as their main mission. In the short time since its establishment, Navvab Security Rangers, whose forces claim to be devoted soldiers of the Supreme Leader, have created and published numerous propaganda videos mainly addressing Israeli forces and MEK members and officials.
One of the first times Navvab Security Rangers officially appeared in public was during Quds Day on April 29th, 2022. On this occasion, they were in charge of safeguarding IRGC’s new generation of missiles and launchers unveiled that day, including ‘’Kheibar Shekan’’ and ‘’Emad’’ ballistic missile, and ‘’Zelzal’’ rockets. According to the IRGC, the Kheibar Shekan ballistic missile has the ability to hit targets within a range and radius of one thousand kilometers, and hence, can hit targets in Israel. That is why it is also called “Israel Destroyer” and why Navvab Security Rangers, also known as “Quds Conquerors” were assigned with safeguarding the missiles on this occasion, symbolically referring to their mission.
Pictures below show Navvab Security Rangers safeguarding IRGC’s missiles on Quds Day 2022.
Navvab Security Rangers posted some pictures from Quds Day on their Instagram account. The caption reads: “We’ve learned if you don’t take up your weapon in the midst of a bloody war, you’ll end up a slave taken to be sold at the slave market where there is neither mercy, nor compassion”.
They have also published a video titled “MEK Camp in Tirana will be wiped out!” which is a simulation of an attack on Ashraf III Camp in Tirana.
In their very first mission after their establishment, however, they have not been dispatched to Quds or Tirana, but to the streets of the capital Tehran to take part in the crackdown on protesters.
This makes one wonder whether this was the primary motive for the formation of this battalion all along: to create violent, ruthless forces that instil fear and horror in the spirits of Iranian citizens and to quell anti-government protests as quickly as possible.