The al-Ahwaz Arab People's Democratic Front (APDF) is a London-based separatist group dedicated to the independence of Iran's Khuzestan region. Khuzestan, an oil-rich province in southwestern Iran, is home to much of Iran's ethnic Arab minority. The ultimate goal of the group is to establish an independent, Marxist Arab state for the people of Khuzestan.
The APDF currently operates out of London after having been banned from Iran and is considered one of the most active al-Ahwazi groups. Largely a political organization, the group lobbies for international acknowledgement of discrimination against Arabs in Khuzestan and seems to have a direct hand in the separatist agitation which occurs in the province. The APDF has been linked to several terrorist attacks, but while the group has lauded those who committed them, it has denied direct responsibility.
Most notably, the APDF was linked to a June 12, 2005 series of explosions that rocked Iran, killing at least 10 and injuring more than 85. Seven explosions went off in Ahwaz, the capital of Khuzestan, and Tehran on June 12, a week before the presidential election was held in Iran. Iranian media said it received three claims of responsibility for the attack, including one from the APDF. The group issued a statement denying responsibility and accusing the government of implicating them as an excuse to further crack down on separatist activity.
The APDF also played a role in the Khuzestan riots of April 2005. The riots occurred when a classified letter signed by former vice president Hojjatoleslam Hohammad Ali Abtahi was widely distributed. The letter called for Persian Iranians to settle in Ahwaz and the surrounding areas in an attempt to forcibly relocate the local Arab population. Upon hearing of this letter, thousands of Ahwazi Arabs took to the streets, clashing with police and targeting government property. The group encouraged these riots, calling on Arabs in the region to rise up against the government and defend themselves. In an interview on Al Jazeera, an APDF spokesperson, Mahmud Ahmad al-Ahwazi aka Abu Bashir, accused the Iranian police of opening fire on a peaceful protest organized by the APDF amidst the riots. The statement provoked further outrage and, as a reaction, the Iranian government temporarily shut down Al Jazeera's operation in the country.
The Iranian government has accused the APDF of being a means through which Western countries foment discontent within Iran and try to topple the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration. The Iranian government denies ethnic discrimination or conflict in the country. The APDF claims it receives no funding from any foreign nation and is opposed to "imperial" Western influence in the Middle East.
Despite proclaiming its independence from Western states, one of the primary purposes of the group at this point seems to be courting the attention of foreign governments and international NGOs. Leaders of the group seem to have formed relationships with officials in at least a few Western countries including Britain, France, and Canada. They also continue to investigate and report on what they consider to be grave human rights violations in Khuzestan. It is extremely likely that the group also continues to have a hand in separatist violence in the region. It is unclear, however, whether members of the group directly participate in the violence or merely support it indirectly.
U.S. Government Designations
Learn more about these U.S. Department of State classifications: