Washington, June 20 (ANI): Basij, a semiofficial force of volunteers on whom the Iranian Government has relied for years to enforce a variety of laws and religious codes, have been accused of committing much of this week's violence in the country.
The protests across Iran have been largely peaceful during the daytime, but Iranians shudder at the violence unleashed at night by Basijis, who indulge in beating, looting and sometimes gunning down protesters they tracked during the day.
One of the more dramatic video clips from Iran this week showed a man in an upper-floor window firing onto demonstrators outside a building near Tehran's Azadi Square, killing at least one and wounding others, the Washington Post reports.
The building was a base for the Basij. Protesters say they have raided university dorms, beaten women and smashed their way into private homes. Many said they fear the Basij will be used to carry out even worse violence as the protests continue.
But although the Basiji fear looms large in the minds of their countrymen, Iranians and analysts said it is hard to pin down the number of members, their precise activities and whether they are all as loyal to hard-line government factions as many believe.
Joining the Basij can be as simple as going to a local mosque and receiving a membership card. Training and membership are often informal, said Gary Sick; an Iran expert at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, adding that some who carry out activities associated with the Basij may not be official members.
The term Basij means mobilization, and is originally referred to people too young or too old to join the army during Iran's eight-year war against Iraq.
Then-leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for 20 million Iranians-half the country's population at the time-to volunteer. Many were preteens and teenagers who, swept up in a religion-infused passion, famously walked onto minefields, unarmed, allegedly with plastic keys to heaven around their necks.
After the war, they became known for enforcing moral codes. For years, the word "Basiji" has struck fear into the hearts of more secular Iranians, who know them as young men who stop them on the street for failing to follow the dress code or fraternizing with the opposite sex. (ANI)