Video shows children in Texas taking oath to be 'martyrs' for Iran's supreme leader

Iranian regime uses Islamic centers abroad to spread anti-American message, recruit operatives.

Updated: August 6, 2022 - 11:22pm

A video of kids at an Islamic center in Houston, Texas pledging their allegiance to the supreme leader of Iran is setting off alarm bells among experts, who are warning this has all the signs of the Iranian regime's global indoctrination efforts to spread its revolutionary ideology and recruit operatives abroad.

The viral video was initially posted to YouTube and Facebook last week by the Islamic Education Center of Houston (IEC), which organized the event calling on parents to bring children aged 4-14, according to its social media pages. The original video posts were later removed, but clips remain online.

At the gathering, a large group of children sang "Salam Farmande," meaning "Hello Commander," in both English and Persian. The song is a new and popular Iranian children's anthem pledging allegiance to al Mahdi, a messianic figure in Shia Islam, the religion of Iran's theocratic government.

The religious anthem is also a pledge of support to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whom devotees consider the Mahdi's representative on earth until the messiah returns.

"Seyed Ali is calling on his children, his soldiers, who were born in the 2010s," the children sang in Houston, using Khamenei's first name (Ali) and honorific title (Seyed). "In spite of my age, I will be your army's commander … Don't look at my young age. May my father and mother be sacrificed for you. I will sacrifice everything for you."

The Persian lyrics, translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, also call for kids to become "martyrs" for the supreme leader.

Wearing headbands, waving flags, and saluting, the children sang: "I make an oath, one day when you need me. I make an oath, to be your martyr, Ali. A very long time has passed, every nation is full of tears, don't worry about it, oh my Allah, your soldiers are here without fear."

As the video was circulating online last week, Khamenei suggested on Twitter that the U.S. and Israel were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and accused them of being behind the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina. U.S. officials and Argentine prosecutors have said Iran and its chief terrorist proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah, were responsible for the attack.

Khamenei also claimed on Twitter that "Zionist merchants" control the U.S. and other Western powers, leading Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy for monitoring and combating antisemitism, to denounce Iran's supreme leader for "continued, egregious antisemitism."

Beyond Khamenei, "Hello Commander" also approvingly invokes Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020. The Pentagon has said Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq.

Accord to al Manar, a TV station owned and operated by Hezbollah, "Hello Commander" was written on Khamenei's recommendation. Observers have argued the song, which has been heavily promoted by Iranian state media, is part of the regime's efforts to secure support among the youth. Schoolchildren in Iran are reportedly being forced to sing and memorize it in school.

Activists have lambasted the song as regime propaganda that seeks to recruit child soldiers and brainwash children, drawing comparisons to the Hitler Youth in Nazi Germany.

The scene in Houston should be viewed "how people view a Nazi rally," said Gabriel Noronha, who served in the Trump administration as a special adviser for Iran at the State Department. "In many respects, the ideology being promoted is just as radical as neo-Nazi ideology. It has the same hatred, especially of Jews."

He added that if there was a similar gathering of people on U.S. soil pledging allegiance to the late communist dictators Mao Zedong or Josef Stalin, it would get much more attention from the media and government authorities.

"U.S. authorities should be concerned; this is analogous to Nazi or Soviet schools in the United States," added Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum. "But because this case has a religious dimension, they will pass."

Some experts noted that the Houston video, which was widely shared by Iranian state media, closely resembled propaganda videos produced inside Iran and could indicate collaboration between Iran and the IEC.

"The production quality is quite similar to what's come out of Iran," said Jason Brodsky, policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran. "It's very familiar packaging of 'Hello Commander' and raises questions about potential Iranian propaganda involvement."

Prominent Iranian activist Hanif Jazayeri flagged online that someone who had been promoting the IEC event on Twitter had an IP address in Iran. Along with sharing a flyer to the event, the individual tweeted in Persian, "There isn't long to go until the White House turns into a mosque."

Experts told Just the News there's nothing evidently illegal about young children gathering to pledge loyalty to Iran's supreme leader at an Islamic center. However, they added, there could be illegal activity if there's proven to be certain financial ties to or funding by Iran, which is under heavy U.S. sanctions.

"This is smoke indicating there's a fire," said Noronha. "Congress, state, and local lawmakers should be looking into this."

He and others framed the IEC video as part of a larger effort by the Iranian regime to spread its propaganda and radical ideology in the Western hemisphere, including in the U.S.

"This recent story is troubling but unsurprising," said Kyle Shideler, director and senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy. "Ties between the Iranian regime and certain Shia Islamic Centers abroad is unfortunately not a new phenomenon. The use of such centers is part and parcel of the regime's strategy to spread the Iranian Islamic revolution."

In 2009, the Justice Department took legal action to seize four mosques and a New York City skyscraper for being illegally controlled by the Iranian regime.

Analysts who spoke to Just the News also described Iran's use of mosques and Islamic cultural centers to gain a strategic foothold in Latin America — a longtime concern of the U.S. government.

Each year, the Iranian regime invests hundreds of millions of dollars in its propaganda machine to influence public opinion at home and abroad.

"From nuclear weapons to children in Houston, the Islamic Republic of Iran uses all means at its disposal to forward its hostility to non-Muslims in general and Americans in particular," said Pipes. "Forty-three years after the Islamic revolution, the mullahs have built a formidable international infrastructure ... a global network of allies to promote its Islamist cause, through means fair and foul."

Amid this global operation, some experts are lamenting that the U.S. government seems uninterested in addressing it.

"Clearly very little has been done to address the concerning issue of Iranian influence operations inside the U.S.," said Shideler. "While there is probably not much that can be done about individuals in the video expressing their opinion about the Iranian regime's leaders, it would certainly seem to justify a deeper investigation by authorities to determine what the nature of this Islamic Center is, how it's funded and supported, and whether it has any direct ties to Iran that might justify further action. Unfortunately, with the Biden administration's obsession with getting a nuclear deal with Iran, it's hard to imagine they will take the kind of aggressive counterintelligence steps that would be justified in a case like this."

The Department of Homeland Security didn't respond to a request for comment for this story. However, the FBI's Houston office issued a statement to Just the News.

"We will not comment specifically on the video you're referring to," a spokesperson said. "However, it is important to note that the FBI does not initiate or investigate any matter based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment, or the race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation of any individual or organization. The FBI investigates activity which may constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. Our focus is not on membership in particular groups but on criminal activity."

The IEC has a history of supporting Iran's Islamist regime.

In 2019, for example, the IEC celebrated the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution, singing, " Khamenei is our leader ... We are his soldiers."

Just last month, the Houston center hosted a lecture on the Islamic Republic of Iran's founder and first supreme leader, the late Ruhollah Khomeini, referring to him as "the great reformer." Khomeini oversaw the taking of 52 American diplomats hostage in 1979.

"The piecemeal approach to the nefarious activities of Iran's ruling theocracy has allowed the regime, which is detested and faltering at home, to export its fundamentalist ideology as far away as the United States with impunity, this time under the veneer of cultural initiatives," said Ali Safavi, a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran's Foreign Affairs Committee.

The IEC didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.

Both Brodsky and Noronha noted that, beyond propaganda, Iran also uses mosques and cultural centers to "recruit agents and operatives sympathetic to their goals."

The U.S. intelligence community warned earlier this year that Iran has long been committed to developing networks inside the U.S. to threaten Americans.

Last week, a man armed with a loaded AK-47 and more than $1,000 worth of cash on hand was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of journalist Masih Alinejad, a U.S. citizen and an outspoken Iranian dissident. Last July, the Justice Department announced charges against Iranian intelligence agents for plotting to kidnap Alinejad and forcibly return her to Iran. It's unclear why the man arrested last week was by her home and heavily armed.

Just the News has previously reported on how Iran and Hezbollah have long maintained sleeper cells and sleeper agents in the U.S., waiting for Tehran's signal to strike.

"From the George W. Bush administration forward, American leaders have repeatedly worried about Tehran's hidden assets in the United States and their potential to wreak havoc," said Pipes. "By now, this must be formidable. They await the word from their masters, as the children's song implies."

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