Iran's Quds Force aimed to launch terror groups in Africa, UN hears

A report by the UN's Panel on the Central African Republic details how the Quds Force allegedly met with the country's former president to offer him backing in return for amassing a terror group.

Central African Republic's President Michel Djotodia attends a ceremony marking the beginning of construction on a bridge destroyed during floods in Bangui December 3, 2013. (photo credit: REUTERS/EMMANUEL BRAUN)
Central African Republic's President Michel Djotodia attends a ceremony marking the beginning of construction on a bridge destroyed during floods in Bangui December 3, 2013.
Iran's Quds Force attempted to set up terror cells in Central Africa to strike Western, Israeli and Saudi targets, UN reporters have heard.
On April 19, a television report was broadcast on an international news channel carrying footage of Ismael Djidah, an ex-Séléka member, who had been arrested in Chad. "We want to create an army to fight against Westerners in Africa," he was filmed as saying.
Séléka is an alliance of rebel militia groups of mostly Muslim membership who staged a coup of the Central African Republic in March 2013 and installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, as the nation's president. He remained in place until his resignation in January 2014. The group, meanwhile, was officially dissolved that September, when the remaining rebel groups became known as ex-Séléka.
The footage was self incriminating. In a longer version obtained by a UN panel of experts for an official report on the Central African Republic, he revealed that, upon instruction from Djotodia and with the support of Iran's IRGC Quds Force, Djidah had set up an armed group named 'Saraya Zahraa' to wage violence against Western, Israeli and Saudi interests in Africa.
His intention was to create a force comprising 200-300 armed men, operating in coordination with other armed groups from Chad and Sudan. Djidah traveled to Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, and on each trip met with Quds Forces representatives, who handed him sums of between $12,000 and $20,000. Between 30 and 40 others, who Djidah claimed were recruited from the ranks of ex-Séléka, also traveled to Lebanon, Iraq and Syria in 2017 and 2018 to take part in training, including the use of firearms.
According to Djidah, the training was provided by individuals from Quds Force and Hezbollah, among others.
Aiming to corroborate the testimony, the UN panel gathered evidence confirming that Djidah did travel to Lebanon in March, July, September and December 2017, and again in February-March and July 2018. the United Arab Emirates confirmed to the panel in October 2019 that Djidah traveled from Dubai to Kish Island in Iran and back again in December 2016, staying for just one night. And a visa was found granting him permission to enter Iraq in October 2018.
In addition, the panel collected further evidence confirming travel by 12 individuals, said to be members of Saraya Zahraa, to Lebanon and Iraq.
However, the report notes: "The Panel was unable to meet with Djidah and is unable, at the present stage, to confirm the veracity of the information contained in his testimony in its entirety."
In his testimony, Djidah claimed that he had undertaken his collaboration with the Quds Force under instructions from Michael Djotodia.
DJIDAH AND Djotodia first met when the latter was Consul of the Central African Republic in Nyala, between 2005 and 2006. The UN report cites several sources including ex-Séléka leaders, who asserted that Djidah was instrumental in facilitating connections between Djotodia and Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups operating in Sudan.
Djotodia was expelled from Sudan in 2016 for rebelling against the regime of François Bozizé, fleeing to Benin. There he was arrested and jailed for nearly two years during which time he was provided with financial support by Djidah. Following his release, the men remained close associates, so much so that when Djotodia became president of the Central African Republic in March 2013, he named Djidah as his presidential advisor.
That title appears on Djidah's diplomatic passport, issued in June 2013, as detailed by the UN panel. In addition, according to the report, "the Panel collected a dozen testimonies from individuals who occupied high-level positions durin  Djotodia’s presidency and who described Ismael Djidah as “Djotodia’s man,” only answering to the president and traveling in his name. When Djotodia was forced to resign in January 2014, [after which he] returned to Benin, Ismael Djidah followed him and continued to work for him in Cotonou, Benin, until his arrest in early 2019."
According to Djidah, in April 2016, Djotodia met with Quds Force officials on Kish Island, and the men reached an agreement whereby Djotodia would receive support from the force to re-establish his power, in return for establishing a terror cell to carry out violent acts, including in the Central African Republic.
At the meeting, Djotodia was handed $150,000 by the Iranians, who instructed him how to carry out the plan, Djidah said. Several other ex-Séléka leaders were also willing to testify that Djotodia had been handed a sum of between $100,000 and $200,000 by Iran, although they were unsure what the money was for.
And again, the United Arab Emirates passed information to the panel that Djotodia had also traveled from Dubai to Kish Island on April 27, 2016, returning to Dubai on May 30.
DJOTODIA DENIES this. According to the report: "He told the panel that he spent only two days in Kish Island, a trip that had been organized by business partners from the Islamic Republic of Iran, whom he had met in Dubai on behalf of a Cotonou-based company."
He also denies any knowledge of Djidah's activities, accusing him of falsely acting on his behalf. "He has also denied having appointed Djidah as presidential adviser during his presidency," the report notes, adding that, "In Djotodia’s view, Djidah was in contact with individuals from the Islamic Republic of Iran to extort money by requesting their financial support for reconciliation activities that he claimed to implement in the Central African Republic."
Iran has also denied involvement, writing to the UN Panel insisting that the testimony of Djidah and others was "founded on fake sources and a fabricated scenario." Iran "neither interfered in the internal affairs of any country nor supported any violent act," officials claimed.
Thousands have been killed in the war in the Central African Republic, and over a million people have been displaced. Yet in early January, Djotodia returned to the war-stricken country after six years in exile, aiming to run in the country's presidential elections later this year.
“I am no longer a former president or a man of war: I am one of the permanent ambassadors for the promotion of universal peace,” Djotodia said after touching down in the capital Bangui, according to the Telegraph. “I am and will be the last rebel.”