Special Ops Unit: Unit 400

Unit 400

Overview

Unit 400 is the special forces unit of the Quds Force, focused on planning and conducting attacks outside Iran. Within this remit, it also takes responsibility for transferring military aid to terror and guerrilla organizations around the world and coordinating their activities in order to prepare them to carry out attacks that serve the interests of the Iranian regime.

Unit 400 is an elite unit that works covertly and maintains maximum compartmentalization and secrecy. Given the sensitivity of the unit's activities, its operations require special authorization from Quds Force chief commander Qassem Suleimani and ultimately from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The unit has been responsible for various attacks and attempted attacks that have been exposed in recent years, including the assassination of a Saudi diplomat in Pakistan in May 2011, plans to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. that were foiled in September 2011, and a series of plots in February 2012 in New Delhi, Tblisi and Bangkok.

The unit is headed by Major General Hamed Abdollahi, from the Shah-Abad district of Tehran. Abdollahi has been involved in violent terror activity including, for instance, the firing of an RPG at a Sunni mosque in Zahedan. He has served in various significant positions, including as commander of the Quds Force intelligence branch, commander of the IRGC in the Zahedan and Zabol provinces of east Iran, and as deputy to Qassem Suleimani when the latter commanded the 41st Division.  

Another senior commander in the unit is Majid Alawi, who served in the past in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and as Iran's deputy intelligence minister. Alawi joined Unit 400 in 2011, and has been using his experience to contribute to operational activities and attack plans mainly in distant countries with which he is familiar from his operational past.

Several other Unit 400 operatives that used to serve in the MOIS have recently been exposed while conducting activity overseas. They also joined the Quds Force with a view to widening its operational reach to countries outside of Iran's usual orbit.

Modus Operandi

Unit 400 uses various methods to conduct activities while maintaining secrecy and obscuring any trace of Iranian involvement:

  • The unit uses foreign facilitators and proxies, including criminal elements, for collecting operational intelligence, making preliminary logistical preparations and for mounting attacks. These facilitators sometimes undergo operational training in Iran, including in weapons, explosives, surveillance and other intelligence tradecraft. Quds Force handlers meet them for briefings in Iran and overseas, in which operational intelligence collected by the facilitators is passed to the handlers and assignments are passed back to the external facilitators.
  • The unit uses commercial front companies that assist its operatives when travelling internationally.
  • The unit transfers weapons and equipment to areas in which it plans to conduct attacks. Again, cover companies such as Arash Zoobin and Aria Navid are used to secretly transfer the weapons.
  • Iranian religious/cultural/charity organizations around the world are used to recruit facilitators. In parallel, the Quds Force also recruits students that pay extended visits to the holy city of Qom to study in religious seminaries.

Operatives from the unit use these capabilities to work up an appropriate plan in preparation for any attack. Any newly initiated operation by the unit is approved in principle by the Quds Force chief commander and the Supreme Leader, and only then is the attack plan advanced with the assistance of facilitators, proxy organizations and front companies.

Final authorization for execution of an attack is provided only after intelligence has been collected on the target and examined, a suitable operating method worked out, and weapons and equipment brought into the target area. Usually, this authorization is provided both at the level of Quds Force command and the Iranian leadership itself.

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