Israeli intelligence sources are convinced that the bomb attack on the US Embassy in Beirut on April 18 was carried out by a fundamentalist Moslem Shi'ite sect which has close links with Syria and Iran.
TEHERAN, IRAN 1978
GV ZOOM INTO CU Demonstrators with Iranian flag and portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini. SV PAN Portrait of Shah thrown from window. Demonstrators running
Background: Israeli intelligence sources are convinced that the bomb attack on the US Embassy in Beirut on April 18 was carried out by a fundamentalist Moslem Shi'ite sect which has close links with Syria and Iran. The blast has focused attention on the various sects in the Moslem world and on a continuing feud between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. The Sunnis form the bulk of the world's 800 million Moslem population. The Shi'ites account for only 15 per cent but their revolutionary power is fomented for export in Iran. Observers say battle lines are being drawn up for an islamic civil war.
SYNOPSIS: Teheran 1979, and after repeated demonstrations the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi left Iran for permanent exile. Violent riots indicated just how far discontent had spread among the country's 54 million people.
It was demonstrations like these which forced the Shah to impose martial law in Iranian cities but there was no halting the fervour of the Islamic revolution and the Shi'ite brand of fundamentalism.
Women re-adopted the chador as a militant gesture at the height of the revolution. But even in the early days there were those who strongly disagreed with the Ayatollah Khomeini's strict interpretation of Islamic thought. These Kurds are Sunni Moslems in a country where Shi'ite Islam is a state religion.
More than 100,000 Iranian Moslems took to the streets to commemorate the death of one of their earliest religious leaders Hassan. The Shi'ites believe -- unlike the Sunni Moslems -- that the Prophet Mohammed nominated his son-in-law Ali as his successor. There are also other fundamental differences between the two sects.
Last year a leading official of the Iranian government opened a week of solidarity between the Shi'ite and Sunnis but there is no denying the continuing antagonism between the two. Since the revolution four years ago thousands of Shi'ite militants have received revolutionary training in Iran and have returned home to organize their own islamic revolutions. In Iran itself the Sunnis are under growing pressure to convert to Shi'ism.
One of the most vulnerable importers of Shi'ite extremism is Pakistan. President Zia has already called out troops to combat the growing street violence. Large caches of weapons destined for the Shi'ites have been seized by Pakistani customs officers at the border with Iran. And in Karachi, raids on slum areas like these have unearthed cases of guns, ammunition and explosives -- many with Iranian markings. Counter-balancing iranian support for the Shi'ites militant Sunni organization have been armed and funded by Saudi arabia, western diplomats say.
Makkah and more than two million Moslems of all denominations make the annual Islamic pilgrimage (Hajji). Traditionally Hajji is a time for celebrations but last year these were cancelled as a mark of respect for the Palestinian refugees massacred in Beirut.
Lebanese Druze Moslem leader Walid Jumblatt escaped an apparent assassination attempt in December when a car bomb exploded near him in the heart of Beirut. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon undoubtedly united some of the warring Moslem sects. By the autumn of last year some Shi'a militiamen in the south were reported to have joined Palestinian and Lebanese leftists fighting the Israelis from behind Syrian lines. Others were said to have escaped to the north to join other forces opposed tot he rule of President Amin Gemayel. Both the Sunnis and the Shi'as want a greater say in the Lebanese government and the economy.
Shi'ite Moslems in several towns and villages in Israeli-occupied South lebanon have demonstrated over recent arrests by the Israeli army. On March 24, the villagers of Jibshit literally closed shop and held a sit-in at the local mosque. Israeli soldiers arrested Shi'ites on suspicion of involvement in recent attacks on the multi-national peace keeping forces in Beirut. An allegation the sect leaders consistently deny.
The car bomb at the US Embassy in Beirut killed more than 50 people and injured more than 120. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by an organization calling itself the Islamic "Rendezvous which is thought to be a breakaway Shi'ite faction from the Lebanese El Amal movement. The faction is supported by hundreds of Iranian volunteers. The car bomb was a graphic example that Iran's most dangerous export -- Shi'ite fundamentalism -- is still a dangerous destabilising force in the whole area.