A senior spokesman for Iran’s armed forces blamed Israel and the United States for an attack that killed 24 people, including military personnel and a four-year-old child, and wounded more than 60 when gunmen opened fire on a military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz Saturday.
“These terrorists are not affiliated with Daesh [the Islamic State], nor with other groups fighting [Iran’s] Islamic system,” Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). “These individuals were trained and equipped by two extremist Persian Gulf states… they are linked to the United States and the Mossad.”
At least five members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and two regular army soldiers were among those injured, according to the BBC’s Persian-language service.
All four of the attackers died, according to Shekarchi. Three were killed by security personnel at the scene, and the fourth died from his wounds after being taken to a local hospital.
Eyewitnesses reported that the attackers were wearing military dress and that the shooting lasted for several minutes, according to the Iranian media. Participants and spectators of the par
A video distributed to Iranian media showed soldiers crawling on the ground as gunfire blazed in their direction. One soldier picked up a gun and got to his feet as women and children fled for their lives.
Ali Hosein Hoseinzadeh, deputy governor in Khuzestan province, was quoted as saying the death toll was expected to rise. One of those killed was a journalist.
A local Arab group claimed responsibility for the attack. Yaghub Hur Totsari, spokesman for one of the two groups that identify themselves as the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, said the Ahvaz National Resistance, an umbrella organization of all armed movements, claimed responsibility for the attack, but did not specify which group carried out the operation.
“This action was part of our legitimate resistance and no civilians were targeted in the attack,” said a statement released by the group, which describes itself as devoted to protecting the rights of Khuzestan province’s ethnic Arab minority, according to the BBC.
The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for the attack, according to a statement released by the group’s Amaq news agency, but did not provide any evidence of its involvement.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held “regional terror sponsors and their US masters” responsible in a statement on Twitter.
Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz. Children and journos among casualties. Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks. Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 22, 2018
“Terrorists recruited, trained, armed and paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz. Children and journos among casualties,” Zarif wrote. “Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks. Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives.”
An unnamed spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps likewise claimed that the attackers had the backing of Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
The spokesman also said that the attackers directed their fire at civilians in the crowd as well as members of the armed forces participating in the parade, Iranian media reported.
In response, Iran has is increasing security at the Shalamcheh border crossing with Iraq in Khuzestan province, according to the BBC.
Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior Revolutionary Guards official, vowed retaliation for the attack. “Enemies should not imagine that they can gain dignity with this sinister move. The Iranian people and the armed forces will respond to this,” he said, according to IRNA
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, RIA news quoted the Kremlin as saying.
This is not the only recent terrorist incident on Iranian soil. Last June, Islamic State suicide bombers and gunmen attacked Iran’s parliament and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, killing 18. Recent years have also seen attacks by armed militias affiliated with Kurdish and Balochi separatist movements.
Kurdish militants killed 10 Revolutionary Guards in an attack on an IRGC post on the Iraqi border in July, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, the latest bloodshed in an area where armed Kurdish opposition groups are active.
The parade in Ahvaz, and others held around the country over the weekend, marked the 37th anniversary of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War, the longest and bloodiest conflict in Iran’s modern history.