Mehrshad Soheili has collected a number of plaudits from the Iranian media in the past few years. The 17-year-old has been dubbed the Islamic republic’s “youngest commander” and a “teenage jihadist.” He has been lauded, as the purported head of the registered Imam Mehdi Garrison, as the hidden imam. And as president of the Imam Sadegh Institute, his name has been associated with one of the spiritual successors of the Prophet Muhammad.
Photos of Soheili online show him next to influential clerics in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, including Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, whom he reportedly met when he was only 13. Reports said that a book titled A Star From The West was published about Soheili when he was only 15 and that senior Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the godfather of Iran’s hard-liners who died in 2020, attended the book launch. Teenage Jihadist
In one photo, the 17-year-old “commander” was seen wearing a uniform of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). In another photo he is seen alongside conservative politician Mostafa Mirsalim, a former police chief and culture minister, who ran for president in 2017.
Soheili, who will turn 18 in May and has reportedly not graduated from high school, even appeared on Iranian state-controlled television, where usually only regime insiders and hard-line personalities are given a platform.
He claimed in media interviews that he was involved in helping the needy, including thousands of young couples as well students in remote parts of the country.
Carefully Crafted Image
With his conservative appearance, his apparent ideological alignment with Iran’s centers of power, and his connections, Soheili apparently duped many into believing he was a model revolutionary teenager who was devoted to the poor and the country’s “martyrs.” But on February 2, Soheili was arrested by the Intelligence Ministry, a judiciary official was quoted as saying by the official government news agency IRNA.