ISIS claims attack on Iranian military parade, Tehran blames US
LONDON – Militants shot dead at least 29 people including women and children in an attack on an Iranian military parade claimed by the Islamic State group, as Tehran accused a US ally in the region of the assault.
The attack in the southwestern city of Ahwaz came as the country marked the anniversary of the start of its 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and prompted President Hassan Rouhani to warn of a “crushing response”.
“The response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing”, Rouhani said on his official website. “Those who give intelligence and propaganda support to these terrorists must answer for it.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that the attack near the Iraqi border was carried out by “terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime”.
“Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks,” he wrote.
ISIS militants said via their propaganda mouthpiece Amaq that “Islamic State fighters attacked a gathering of Iranian forces” in Ahwaz.
The city lies in Khuzestan, a province bordering Iraq that has a large ethnic Arab community and has seen separatist violence in the past that Iran has blamed on its regional rivals.
State television said 57 people were wounded. Many of the wounded were in critical condition.
“Of the four terrorists, three were sent to hell at the scene, while the fourth who had been wounded and arrested went to hell moments ago due to his severe wounds,” armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told state television.
Khuzestan deputy governor Ali-Hossein Hosseinzadeh told the semi-official ISNA news agency that “eight to nine” troops were among those killed, as well as a journalist.
Zarif did not specify which regional government he held responsible for the shooting, but Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said the attackers were funded by Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia.
“Those who opened fire on civilians and the armed forces have links to the Ahwazi movement,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told ISNA.
“They are funded by Saudi Arabia and attempted to cast a shadow over the Iranian armed forces.”
The Guards vowed on Sunday to exact “deadly and unforgettable” vengeance for the attack.
“Considering (the Guards’) full knowledge about the centres of deployment of the criminal terrorists’ leaders …, they will face a deadly and unforgettable vengeance in the near future,” the Guards said in a statement carried by state media.
Zarif vowed Iran would “respond swiftly and decisively in defence of Iranian lives”.
Khuzestan was a major battleground of the 1980s war with Iraq and the attack on the anniversary parade in Ahwaz had significant symbolic value.
The province saw unrest in 2005 and 2011 but has since seen been largely quiet.
Attacks by Kurdish rebels on military patrols along the border further north are relatively common.
But attacks on regime targets inside major cities are far rarer.
On June 7, 2017, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks in Tehran on the parliament building and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini — the first inside Iran claimed by the Sunni Muslim extremists of the Islamic State group.
In April, 26 alleged ISIS members went on trial on charges connected with that twin attack.
In a keynote speech, Rouhani vowed to boost Iran’s ballistic missile capabilities despite Western concerns that were cited by his US counterpart Donald Trump in May when he abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.
“We will never decrease our defensive capabilities… we will increase them day by day,” Rouhani said at a military parade. “The fact that the missiles anger you shows they are our most effective weapons,” he said, referring to the West.
Iran has ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles), enough to reach both Israel and US bases in the Middle East.
The United States reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran last month, and a new round of even harsher sanctions targeting Iran’s vital oil sector is set to go back into effect on November 5.
Washington has said it is ready to open talks on a new agreement to replace the July 2015 accord, but Tehran has said repeatedly it cannot negotiate under the pressure of the sanctions.
Trump and Rouhani will both be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. But Iran has repeatedly ruled out any meeting.
The United States on Sunday condemned the attack in Iran but said the country’s clerical rulers needed to look at reasons for unrest.
“The United States condemns any terrorist attack anywhere, period. We’ve always stood by that,” Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN.
But she said of Rouhani: “He has oppressed his people for a long time.”
“He needs to look at his own base to figure out where that’s coming from. I think the Iranian people have had enough and that’s where all of this is coming from.”
Iranian officials said an Arab separatist movement, the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF) or Al-Ahwazi, as the main suspect.
London-based opposition channel Iran International TV on Saturday aired an interview with Yaqoub Hor Altostari, presented as a spokesman for ADPF, indirectly claiming responsibility for the attack and calling it “resistance against legitimate targets”.
But in a statement on its website, the ADPF denied any involvement, accusing Iranian authorities of ordering the attack to distract from Tehran’s support for “militias in the region”.
Iran in response summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain to complain about them “hosting some members of the terrorist group” and “double standards in fighting terrorism,” the foreign ministry said.
The British charge d’affaires “was told that it is not acceptable that the spokesman for the mercenary Al-Ahwazi group be allowed to claim responsiblity for this terrorist act through a London-based TV network,” said the ministry’s spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi.
The British foreign ministry said its charge d’affaires had extended its condolences to Tehran and that Iranian officials were planning to lodge a formal complaint with Britain’s media watchdog Ofcom.
Ghasemi also said Iran expected the Danish and Dutch governments to “hand over the perpetrators of this attack and anyone related to them to Iran for a fair trial”.
(AW and agencies)