By Syed Zafar Mehdi
TEHRAN (AA) - In the group's first-of-its-kind international outreach, the Iran-backed militia Fatemiyoun held its first international symposium in the country’s northeastern city of Mashhad on Thursday.
The conference held in the premises of Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad was organized by Shabab al Muqawama, in cooperation with the shrine's management, said reports.
Fatemiyoun militia group was formed in 2014 to fight in Syria alongside the forces loyal to Bashar al Assad regime and comprises mainly ethnic Hazara Shias from Afghanistan.
The conference, which came amidst the coronavirus pandemic, was attended by many senior military and political officials of Iran and neighboring countries, according to reports.
Sheikh Isa Qassim, Bahrain's top religious leader and spiritual head of country's opposition political group, was the keynote speaker at the conference.
Qassim, who was stripped of his citizenship by the Bahrain government in 2016, has been living in exile in Iran for the past few years, battling poor health.
The poster of the conference circulating over social media said the objective was to "pay tribute" to members of the Fatemiyoun Brigade who were killed over the years in Syria.
It further states that the "ultimate aim" of the group is "liberation of Quds [Jerusalem] and expulsion of US forces from the region".
The involvement of Afghan nationals, many of them living as refugees in Iran, in the protracted Syrian civil war has been one of the issues that has prominently figured in discussions between Afghan and Iranian officials.
The group, at one point, had up to 15,000 fighters in Syria, more than other Iran-backed militia groups in the country.
Many of them coming from poor background allegedly joined the group for money and residency permit in Iran, according to reports.
Afghan officials have often decried it and urged the Iranian authorities not to force Afghan refugees to fight for the Assad regime in the strife-torn country.
Iran, for its part, has maintained that the fighters belonging to the group are part of the "resistance front" and join voluntarily to "defend the holy sites" in Syria.
Today's conference is seen as part of efforts by the group to bolster its image internationally and galvanize support within and outside Iran.