TEHRAN, Iran – Some 200 masked young men and women gathered at a Tehran cemetery Thursday to pledge their willingness to carry out homicide bomb attacks against Americans in Iraq and Israelis.
The ceremony was organized by the Headquarters for Commemorating Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement (search), a shadowy group that has since June been seeking volunteers for attacks in Iraq and Israel.
A spokesman, Ali Mohammadi, described the group meeting Thursday as the "first suicide commando unit," though another official has claimed members already have carried out attacks in Israel.
"Sooner or later we will bury all blasphemous occupiers of Islamic lands," Mohammadi said.
On Sunday, Iran's deputy interior minister for security affairs told reporters the movement had no official sanction and said such groups could operate only "as long as their ideas are limited to theory." The group, though, has the backing of some prominent hard-line Iranian politicians.
The deputy minister, Ali Asghar Ahmadi (search), did not say if the government had tried to crack down on the military style training the group claims to offer or whether officials believed any of its volunteers had crossed into Iraq or into Israel.
Iran has not had diplomatic relations with the United States since the 1979 Islamic revolution ousted the U.S.-backed shah. But Iran says it has no interest in fomenting instability in Iraq and it tries to block any infiltration into Iraq by insurgents — while pleading that its porous borders are hard to police.
Iran portrays Israel as its main nemesis and backs anti-Israeli groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah (search).
Wives, husbands and children accompanied volunteers to the cemetery, which was decorated with posters denouncing America and Israel.
"I joined the unit to fulfill my religious task for Palestine," said a volunteer who gave only his age — 23.
Thursday's ceremony included the unveiling of 6-foot stone column commemorating a 1983 attack on U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon as a major "suicide bombing operation against global blasphemy."
In the early hours of Oct. 23, 1983, a truck carrying more than 2,000 pounds of explosives sped past a sentry post and exploded in the center of the barracks, killing 241 Marines. President Reagan ordered U.S. troops to withdraw from Lebanon a few months after the bombing.
In 2003, a U.S. federal judge blamed Iran for the attack and said Tehran would have to pay damages to survivors and relatives.