TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vowed a “crushing response” after assailants shot dead at least 29 people, including women and children, on Saturday in an attack on an Iranian military parade.
The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed to have carried out the rare assault in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, while Iranian officials accused “a foreign regime” backed by the United States of being behind it.
“The response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing,” Mr Rouhani said on his official website, after earlier addressing a similar military parade in Tehran to mark the start of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq.
IS claims responsibility for rare attack, but Tehran sees ‘a foreign regime’ backed by Washington behind it
“Those who give intelligence and propaganda support to these terrorists must answer for it,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said 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 on his Twitter account. 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.
IS militants said via their propaganda mouthpiece Amaq that “Islamic State fighters attacked a gathering of Iranian forces” in Ahvaz.
State television gave a casualty toll of 29 dead and 57 wounded, while the official news agency IRNA said those killed included women and children among spectators at the rally. Many of the wounded were in critical condition.
Mr 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 Ahvazi movement,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told the semi-official agency ISNA.
“They are funded by Saudi Arabia and attempted to cast a shadow over the Iranian armed forces.” Armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi said the dead included a young girl and a former serviceman in a wheelchair.
Three attackers were killed at the scene, he said, and the fourth died later from his injuries, he told state television. Khuzestan deputy governor Ali-Hossein Hosseinzadeh told ISNA that “eight to nine” troops were among those killed, as well as a journalist.
Support from allies
In a message of condolence to Russia’s close regional ally, President Vladimir Putin said he was “appalled by this bloody crime” which was a reminder of the “necessity of an uncompromising battle against terrorism”.
Syria, another ally, also condemned the attacks, standing in “full sympathy and solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran”, said a Syrian foreign ministry official.
Neighbouring Turkey expressed “great sorrow” at what it called “a heinous terrorist attack”.
Khuzestan was a major battleground of the 1980s war with Iraq and the province saw unrest in 2005 and 2011, but has since 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 last year, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks in Tehran on the parliament and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini — the first inside Iran claimed by IS.
In April, 26 alleged members of the Sunni extremist group went on trial on charges connected with that twin attack.
The attack in Ahvaz came as Mr Rouhani was among dignitaries at the main anniversary parade in Tehran.
In a keynote speech, he 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,” Mr 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.
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.
Mr Trump and Mr Rouhani will both be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. But Iran has repeatedly ruled out any meeting.
Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2018