January 21, 2019

Fliers in Westwood announcing launch of Hezbollah-like group has Iranian Jews on edge

Members of the local Iranian-American community are concerned after the recent distribution of Farsi-language fliers in Westwood’s Persian Square district announcing the inception of a group calling itself the “Army of Hezbollah in America.”

The flier presents itself as “a forceful warning by ‘Hezbollah in America,’ regarding the evil military and terroristic presence of the United States in the Persian Gulf” and cautions that it will “respond to any acts in the Persian Gulf on American soil.”

News of the flier first was released by the Los Angeles-based, Farsi-language IranShahr newspaper, whose Iranian-Jewish owner, Bijan Khalili, said he discovered multiple fliers left outside the offices of his bookstore and publishing company, Ketab Corp., on July 26.

“This flier is very disturbing because we’ve never before seen such direct threats from the Iranian regime here in L.A.,” Khalili told the Journal. “This is very serious. In their letter, they are directly threatening all people living on American soil with retaliation if the U.S. continues its activities in the Persian Gulf.”

The newspaper reported that the fliers invoke language from the Quran closely associated with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon, and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. They also refer to “the efforts of the Zionist media.”

“At the slightest action against the region’s countries, especially Iran, Hezbollah in America will not fail to increase its forces, and will act as a united steel arm of Middle Eastern countries,” the fliers state.

The fliers arrived 10 days after the paper received an anonymous phone call threatening to kidnap its non-Jewish editor-in-chief, Mehdi Aghazamani, according to Khalili.

Khalili said he and other Iranian Americans reported the flier to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), which informed him it turned over information to the FBI for investigation. Khalili said he also turned over security camera footage to police showing the person who had left the fliers in the early morning.

Local Iranian-American leaders of various faiths said the incident is the first since their arrival in Los Angeles nearly 40 years ago that any group has actively voiced sympathy toward the current Iranian regime and called for retaliation against people living in the U.S.

Sam Yebri, co-founder of “30 Years After,” a local Iranian Jewish nonprofit group, said the result is a sense of unease.

“We have long feared that the violent Islamic fundamentalism that we fled in Iran would spread and follow us to America’s shores,” he said. “We urge our friends in the law enforcement and national security communities to investigate the source of these fliers with the utmost urgency and seriousness.”

The LAPD’s media relations office said it did not have information about the incident, and phone calls made to detectives at its West Los Angeles Division were not immediately returned. Laura Eimiller, a spokesperson at the FBI Los Angeles office, said the FBI is aware of the flier and assessing it, but she declined to provide further information.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, whose Fifth Council District includes Westwood, said he has reached out to police, and his “chief deputy of public safety is in regular communication with the public safety counterparts tracking all leads on where this flier may have come from.”

Local Iranian-Jewish activists who have long criticized the Iranian regime said they are concerned the flier represents a new and direct threat to L.A.’s 40,000 strong Iranian-Jewish community.

“Decades of anti-Semitic incitement by the Iranian regime has produced a

generation of anti-Semites, which includes expatriates who were incited to the max during the [President Barack] Obama ‘Iran deal’ to hate the Jews for being scared of the Islamic regime after coming here and being treated like harmless guests,” said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist and head of the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran.

On the other hand, Roozbeh Farahanipour, a non-Jewish Iranian political activist and a Westwood restaurateur, said he is not surprised by the tenor of the fliers.

“For the past several years we have seen elements associated with the Iranian regime in many incidents openly harassing people here in Westwood for drinking alcohol, or harassing Iranian women for not covering their hair, or harassing women for wearing ‘sexy clothing’ in public,” he said.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, said he is troubled with the content of the flier. He urged the community to remain on alert but not overreact while local law enforcement investigates the matter.

“At this time, it’s hard to say if this threat came from a lone wolf just trying to get attention or if it was from an actual organized group,” he said. “I think we need to stay vigilant, keep our ears open but not panic, because whoever wrote this letter wants to create fear in the public, and we cannot allow that to happen.”

(Photo of flyer from a new group claiming to be the Army of Hezbollah in America, photo courtesy of IranShahr news agency)