January 25, 2021 | Policy Brief

Iran Commemorates the Death of Qassem Soleimani

January 25, 2021 | Policy Brief

Iran Commemorates the Death of Qassem Soleimani

Pro-Iranian outlets, including affiliates of Iran’s Al-Mustafa International University, earlier this month commemorated the first anniversary of the death of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, whom the United States killed on January 3, 2020. These developments show how Al-Mustafa – a training ground for Iranian regime propagandists – weaponizes its graduates and subsidiaries for propaganda purposes.

Al-Mustafa affiliates in Latin America provided multiple forums to memorialize Soleimani. The first was Radio Islamica de Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, which conducted a broadcast on January 1. The broadcast was accessible online via the outlet’s Facebook account and the website for Ababil, a sister organization ostensibly devoted to championing the Palestinian cause, but in fact believed to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. (Ababil’s original website was seized by the FBI in October 2020.)

On January 3, several official Iranian institutions sponsored a speakers’ panel on the digital platform skyroom to launch a book about Soleimani, published by Colombia-based El Faro Internacional, which is run by Al-Mustafa graduates and is part of Al-Mustafa’s Islam Oriente. The book, titled Mi Tio Soleimani (“My Uncle Soleimani”), has a target audience of adolescents and is being printed in multiple locations in Latin America. Iran’s Spanish-language propaganda channel, Hispan TV, reported that the book has already reached its third edition.

Revista Islamica Kauzar published a special volume dedicated to Soleimani. Kauzar’s editor is Mohsen Rabbani, one of the Iranians implicated in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA, a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. The journal is curated by Islam Oriente, which is part of Al-Mustafa and headed by Rabbani. Revista Minarete, the journal of the Centro Islamico Imam Hussein of Rio de Janeiro, whose director is an Al-Mustafa graduate, also announced the publication of a special issue dedicated to Soleimani.

Elsewhere, Segundo Paso, which does not appear to be affiliated with Al-Mustafa but regularly reposts El Faro content, conducted a three-hour-long broadcast about Soleimani. The broadcast took place in Latin America on January 3 and in the United States on January 4. And on January 3, Brazil’s Jornalistas Livres broadcast a webinar hosted by Sayid Marcos Tenorio, the director general of the Istituto Brasil Palestina. Hossein Gharibi, Iran’s ambassador to Brazil, was among the speakers. Although Jornalistas Livres does not appear affiliated with Al-Mustafa, on January 10, it hosted another event at a hotel in Sao Paulo, Brazil, alongside Iranian embassy officials and an Iranian cleric from a local Shiite mosque who is linked to Al-Mustafa.

In light of Al-Mustafa’s mission and conduct, the U.S. Department of the Treasury on December 8 sanctioned the university for enabling “intelligence operations by allowing its student body, which includes large numbers of foreign and American students, to serve as an international recruitment network.”

Iranian propaganda outlets continue to produce sophisticated material to advance Tehran’s message, often seeking to cooperate with likeminded ideologues across the political spectrum. Al-Mustafa plays a critical role in this respect. The United States should now expand on its December sanctions by targeting Al-Mustafa’s affiliates overseas.

Emanuele Ottolenghi is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he also contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) and Iran Program. For more analysis from Emanuele, CEFP, and the Iran Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Emanuele on Twitter @eottolenghi. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CEFP and @FDD_Iran. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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