Iran's Forces Battle ISIS, Other Militants and Friendly Fire in Two Days of Action

Iran has disabled a sleeper cell supportive of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and won a deadly firefight with insurgents, according to state sources.

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence announced Monday the arrest of 27 members of an ISIS-linked cell during a joint operation with an unnamed regional country. The ministry said 10 suspects had been arrested abroad and 17 more within Iran's borders, where they reportedly planned to launch attacks on the country's religious cities. Still reeling from fatalities incurred during twin gun and bomb attacks launched by ISIS against political and religious sites in Tehran in June, Iran has devoted extensive resources toward fighting ISIS abroad. It also faces risks from the jihadists and other rebels attempting to destabilize the nation from within. 

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"The terrorists were trying to transfer weapons and ammunition into the country by concealing them in home appliances," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported the ministry as saying in a statement later translated by Reuters.

GettyImages-693432102 Police officers stand outside Iran's parliament building following an attack by several gunmen on June 7, 2017 in Tehran, Iran. Since the attack, which killed 18 civilians, Iranian leaders have promised tighter security measures to prevent infiltration from jihadists such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and other insurgents. Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

The ministry added that five of those detained were believed to be directly involved in an upcoming plot to conduct acts of terror, and that the remaining 12 had played a supporting role in setting up the conspiracy. The attacks were reportedly set to take place throughout the nation and coincide with Saturday's swearing-in ceremony for recently the re-elected Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani.

News of the operation came just a day after the country's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced it had engaged in clashes with unnamed agents working with a foreign organization in the country's northwest, killing two would-be saboteurs and injuring four more, according to IRNA. Weapons, ammunition, telecommunications equipment and detonators were reportedly seized. IRGC Ground Force Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said the gunmen had attempted to gain access to the country in order to conduct acts of terrorism, but did not specify on behalf of which group the militants were operating. The area has witnessed fighting between Iranian security forces and Kurdish nationalists in the past.

"A terrorist team which sought to enter the country with the purpose of conducting acts of sabotage and terror was dismantled by the IRGC’s Ground Force in a border area in [the Iranian province of] West Azerbaijan," Pakpour said, according to Press TV, the English-language affiliate of the semi-official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

In a third, apparently unrelated development, three Iranian soldiers were killed and seven more injured Sunday when an assailant opened fire at the Kahrizak air force training center, according to IRNA. The report quoted a military prosecutor as saying the identity of the attacker and the suspected course of events would be made public after comprehensive reviews of the scene and interviews with witnesses and survivors. Authorities speculated that the shooting may have been carried out by an individual with psychological issues, or was the result of an accidental discharge of a weapon.

A similar incident reportedly occurred last month at the Abak garrison in the northwestern Qazvin province, where a soldier opened fire on fellow troops, killing three and wounding eight more. The soldier had recently been denied a transfer to serve closer to home and may have been suffering from a mental illness, according to BBC News Persian. The report noted a history of suicide and psychological troubles among young troops, a phenomenon that has affected those in the U.S. military as well.