Tehran regime taking advantage of Ahvaz attack
As Iran marked Sacred Defence Week, which commemorates the 8-year war with Iraq, there was a terrorist attack on a military parade in the south-western city of Ahvaz in which 29 people were killed and 70 wounded. The Mehr News Agency said the attackers wore Iranian military uniforms and shot at the parade and spectators from a nearby park.
The Ahwaz National Resistance (ANR) and the Islamic State (ISIS) both quickly claimed responsibility for the September 22 attack.
A man using the pseudonym Yaqoub al-Tostari said he represented the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA) and, in an interview with Iran International TV in London, credited ANR with the attack.
ASMLA advocates for a separate Arab state in the province of Khuzestan. When asked if ASMLA approved of the attack, Tostari responded: “We have always, ever since 2005 when we started our struggle, [which is] a political, media, human rights and also armed struggle against the military and legitimate targets, including oil pipelines and facilities, the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] IRGC and military forces of the Islamic Republic, to the extent that ordinary citizens are not harmed, have conducted such deeds.”
Tostari claimed the real casualty numbers were higher but dismissed reports that civilians were among them.
On the same day, Tostari, who is based in Denmark, told Radio Denmark online that his organisation is the political arm of the ANR and contradicted his statement to Iran International TV by dismissing responsibility for the attack.
However, in his dismissal, Tostari did not condemn the terrorist attack. He insisted: “The Iranian regime uses terror and criminal deeds against our people. Iran executes and imprisons people to suppress them. When this happens, we have the right to defend our people.”
The question of which group was behind the attack became even more complicated on September 23. Amaq News Agency, the unofficial mouthpiece of ISIS, circulated video footage that allegedly showed three of the assailants expressing delight in Arabic and Persian over what they called an impending operation against “infidels.”
Regardless of which group was behind the attack, it could not have come at a better time for the regime in Tehran.
Internationally, Tehran is already on the offensive, blaming the United States, Israel and its regional Arab adversaries for supporting the attack. The regime is actively trying to suppress Iranian opposition groups abroad: the ambassadors of Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom were summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to receive Tehran’s official protest against the three countries hosting ASMLA and the ANR. By initially accepting responsibility, Tostari and the ASMLA played into the hands of the regime in Tehran.
The attack provides Iranian President Hassan Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, both of whom are at the UN General Assembly in New York, with talking points. They can present Iran as a victim of extremist terrorism.
Domestically, the regime will use the terrorist attack to legitimise its iron-fist policy, not only against terrorists, but also legitimate opposition demands. The regime will remind the Iranian public of the risk posed by separatist movements. Historically, whenever the central government in Tehran was weak, peripheral regions declared independence from Iran. The risk of the dissolution of Iran unifies most Iranians regardless of their views about the regime in Tehran.
At least in the short term, Iran is a net beneficiary of the terrorist attack in Ahvaz.