Assailants with rifles, explosives and women’s disguises stunned Iran on Wednesday with audacious attacks on the parliament building and tomb of its revolutionary founder, the worst terrorist strike to hit the Islamic republic in years. At least 12 people were killed and 42 wounded in the pair of assaults, which lasted for hours and clearly took Iran’s elite security forces by surprise. The six known attackers also were killed, official media said, and five suspects were reported detained. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps blamed Saudi Arabia and the United States for the assaults even as responsibility for them was asserted by the Islamic State, the Sunni extremist group that has taken credit for a staccato of terrorist attacks around the world in the last few weeks.
If the Islamic State’s claim is true, that would be its first successful attack in Iran, which is predominantly Shiite Muslim and regarded by Sunni militants as a nation of heretics. Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria are helping battle the Islamic State. Tensions in the Middle East were already high following a visit by President Donald Trump last month, in which he exalted and emboldened Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival. Saudi Arabia and several Sunni allies led a regional effort on Monday to isolate Qatar, the tiny Persian Gulf country that maintains good relations with Iran. In a statement, the Revolutionary Guards Corps said: “The public opinion of the world, especially Iran, recognizes this terrorist attack which took place a week after a joint meeting of the U.S. president and the head of one of the region’s backward governments, which constantly supports fundamentalist terrorists as very significant,” a reference to Saudi Arabia’s ruling monarchy.
The statement also acknowledged the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility. But it also was possible that a range of others with grievances against Iran may have been responsible.
Members of Iranian forces are seen during an attack on the Iranian parliament in central Tehran, Iran, June 7, 2017. (Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS)
The attacks, the first in Tehran in more than a decade, came just over two weeks after Trump, with Saudi Arabia and its allies, vowed to isolate Iran. Iran has dismissed those remarks, made at a summit meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, as a scheme by Trump to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. In the view of many in Iran, the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is inextricably linked to Saudi Arabia. “ISIS ideologically, financially and logistically is fully supported and sponsored by Saudi Arabia they are one and the same,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line analyst. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the leading nations on opposing sides of the Middle East split between Shiite and Sunni Islam. Iran has military advisers in Iraq and Syria, and it controls and finances militias in those countries and in Lebanon. Tehran also has some influence over the Houthis fighting the government in Yemen, and it often speaks out in support of Shiites in Bahrain, a majority group that Iran says is repressed by the Sunni monarchy.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of “spearheading global terrorism.” Saudi officials say Iran is plotting to control the region. Saudi Arabia, an autocratic kingdom, also opposes Iran’s political ideology, which has a clerical supreme leader but also a president, Parliament and city councils, chosen in elections in which both men and women can participate. On Wednesday morning, only hours before the attacks in Iran, the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said that Iran must be punished for its interference in the region and called Tehran the world’s leading supporter of terrorism. Iran, in turn, has long accused Saudi Arabia of backing terrorists in the region, saying that the kingdom had facilitated the rise of Sunni extremist groups such as the Islamic State and others in Iraq and Syria.
After Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other states cut ties with the gas-rich kingdom of Qatar on Monday, citing its support for Iran, Tehran rushed to fill the void, offering to send food and medicine. One Iranian security official said the attacks had been a message from Saudi Arabia that was meant to teach Iran a lesson. He also said the assaults were intended to test Iran’s reaction. Others questioned Tehran’s decision to rise to the defense of Qatar.
“We are wrong to suddenly seek close ties with Qatar,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government. “They have been bankrolling the Sunni terrorist groups, in the same way the Saudis have.”
While terrorist attacks have become relatively commonplace in Europe and in most of the Middle East, Iran had remained comparatively safe. During May’s election campaign, President Hassan Rouhani often pointed to that fact, lauding the country’s security forces and intelligence agencies for their vigilance. The coordinated terrorist attacks on Wednesday brought such feelings of security to an end, one analyst said. “Today, it was proved that we are vulnerable too,” the analyst, Nader Karimi Joni, said. Terrorism in Iran has been relatively rare, though for many years, the country suffered from a long and bitter campaign of attacks by an armed opposition group, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a Marxist-Islamic organization that for decades was supported by the former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. In many of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq’s attacks, its members would take cyanide when cornered. In 2012, the group was taken off the United States’ list of terrorist organizations with the support of conservative Republican politicians.
Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow in the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, said the attacks in Tehran were an attempt by the Islamic State to finally address “one of the biggest talking points used against it in jihadi circles”: its perceived inability to attack Iran.
“They have been ridiculed for this for a long time,” Awad said. “This is going to help them reach out to a broader population of Salafis and jihadis who will now see that the Islamic State is genuinely fighting all the enemies of Islam.”
Awad also said that the attack could have been partly motivated by the Islamic State’s desire to claim victory somewhere new to raise morale after the blows that have been dealt to their bases in Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Reporting was contributed by Fahim Abed, Anne Barnard, Mona Boshnaq, Rukmini Callimachi, Sewell Chan, Nada Homsi, Isabel Kershner, Salman Masood, Rod Nordland, Hwaida Saad, Eric Schmitt, Jawad Sukhanyar, Nour Youssef and Rick Gladstone.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Wednesday for a pair of stunning attacks on Iran’s parliament and the tomb of its revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, which killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 40. The bloodshed shocked the country and came as emboldened Sunni Arab states backed by U.S. President Donald Trump are hardening their stance against Shiite-ruled Iran. In recent years, Tehran has been heavily involved in conflicts in Syria and Iraq against the Islamic State, but had remained untouched by IS violence around the world. Iran has also battled Saudi-backed Sunni groups in both countries.
Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard indirectly blamed Saudi Arabia for the attacks. A statement issued Wednesday evening stopped short of alleging direct Saudi involvement but called it “meaningful” that the attacks followed Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he strongly asserted Washington’s support for Riyadh. The statement said Saudi Arabia “constantly supports” terrorists including the Islamic State group, adding that the IS claim of responsibility “reveals (Saudi Arabia’s) hand in this barbaric action.”
The “spilled blood of the innocent will not remain unavenged,” the Revolutionary Guard statement said. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, used the attacks to defend Tehran’s involvement in wars abroad. He told a group of students that if “Iran had not resisted,” it would have faced even more troubles.
“The Iranian nation will go forward,” he added.
The violence began in midmorning when assailants with Kalashnikov rifles and explosives stormed the parliament complex where a legislative session had been in progress. The siege lasted for hours, and one of the attackers blew himself up inside, according to Iran’s state TV. Images circulating in Iranian media showed gunmen held rifles near the windows of the complex. One showed a toddler being handed through a first-floor window to safety outside as an armed man looks on. The IS group’s Aamaq news agency released a 24-second video purportedly shot inside the complex, showing a bloody, lifeless body on the floor next to a desk.
An Associated Press reporter saw several police snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings. Police helicopters circled the parliament and all mobile phone lines from inside were disconnected. Shops in the area were closed as gunfire rang out and officials urged people to avoid public transportation. Witnesses said the attackers fired from the parliament building’s fourth floor at people in the streets.
“I was passing by one of the streets. I thought that children were playing with fireworks, but I realized people are hiding and lying down on the streets,” Ebrahim Ghanimi, who was around the parliament building, told the AP. “With the help of a taxi driver, I reached a nearby alley.”
As the parliament attack unfolded, gunmen and suicide bombers also struck outside Khomeini’s mausoleum on Tehran’s southern outskirts. Khomeini led the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah to become Iran’s first supreme leader until his death in 1989. Iran’s state broadcaster said a security guard was killed at the tomb and that one of the attackers was slain by security guards. A woman was also arrested. The revered shrine was not damaged.
The Interior Ministry said six assailants were killed four at the parliament and two at the tomb. A senior Interior Ministry official told Iran’s state TV the male attackers wore women’s attire. Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani called the attacks a cowardly act. Saudi Arabia and Iran regularly accuse each other of supporting extremists in the region. Saudi Arabia has long pointed to the absence of IS attacks in Iran as a sign of Tehran’s culpability. For its part, Iran has cited Saudi Arabia’s support for jihadists and its backing of hard-line Sunni fighters in Syria.
Trump’s first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia last month positioned the U.S. firmly on the side of the kingdom and other Arab states in their stance against Iran. His assurances of Washington’s support emboldened hawkish royals in Saudi Arabia, which is at war in Yemen against Iranian-allied rebels. The attacks are likely to deepen enmity and sharpen the regional battle for power between the two rivals. Tensions are running high this week following a cut in ties between key Arab powers and Qatar over accusations that the energy-rich nation supports terrorist groups and is aligning itself too closely with Iran. Saudi Arabia has been a target of numerous lethal attacks by IS affiliates who see the kingdom’s Western-allied leadership as heretics. The group has also targeted Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
IS militants are fighting Iranian-backed forces in Syria and Iraq, and they view Shiites as apostates. Iran shares borders with Iraq and Turkey, where extremists could have slipped in. Nelly Lahoud, an expert on extremism at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain, said IS leaders may be looking to rally supporters through the attacks in Iran as they lose ground in Syria and Iraq.
“Now that they are unable to maintain the promise of territory, attacking Iran is to their advantage,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if this were planned for a long time.”
On March 27, the IS group posted a 37-minute video in Farsi threatening Iran. The Clarion Project said the speakers claimed to represent various Iranian Sunni ethnic groups, such as the Baluchis and Ahvazis, and encouraged Iranian Sunnis to join the group. Wednesday’s attacks, during the holy month of Ramadan that is observed by both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, came as the Islamic State is competing with al-Qaida for jihadi recruits.
Arab separatists are active in Iran’s southern city of Ahvaz, where they killed two policemen three weeks ago. Though most Iranians are Shiite, including separatists in Ahvaz, the eastern Baloch region is majority Sunni, although there are no recent census figures available. There is also a significant Sunni population in southern Hormozgan province. The attacks drew condemnation from Iran’s allies and also from the United States. That was notable because of the deep distrust between Tehran and Washington, which don’t have diplomatic relations. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. expressed condolences to the victims and their families.
“The depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world,” Nauert said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent condolences and confirmed Moscow’s willingness to aid its ally. Syria’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the attacks, which it said were backed by various governments that it did not specify. The IS group often claims attacks around the world, even when links to the group cannot be confirmed. Iranian security officials have not said who might have been behind the attacks, although state media called the assailants “terrorists.”
There are concerns that a doubling down on security could lead to a wider clampdown on the opposition in Iran. Rights group Amnesty International urged Iranian authorities to carry out impartial investigations into the attacks. Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at King’s College London, said the attacks could provoke a disproportionate counterterrorism response in Iran.
“Iranian officials will be called upon to step up intervention in Iraq (and) Syria big time,” he said, adding that Wednesday’s attacks will significantly boost IS morale amid battlefield defeats.
Leading News from Sri Lanka::
* Australia and Sri Lanka to enhance cooperation in maritime security
Fri, May 26, 2017, 08:45 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.
May 26, Sydney: President Maithripala Sirisena assured that his government is totally committed to support the campaign against human smuggling and sea piracy. He said that Sri Lanka would extend fullest cooperation to the efforts taken to enhance maritime security.
The President made this statement when the Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne called on him at the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney, on Thursday (May 25).
Ms Payne thanked the President for excellent cooperation extended to Australia for curbing human smuggling and added that the cooperation could be further extended. President Sirisena said that drug smuggling has also become a major threat to many countries and emphasized the need for broad international cooperation to eliminate that menace. Defense Minister, explaining the experience gained by the Australian Navy over the years to prevent drug smuggling, said the drug smugglers use the profits to fund terrorist organizations and it is a major problem to law and order in many countries. Hence Australia is willing to closely cooperate with Sri Lanka in this field and provide every possible assistance to Sri Lanka Navy and Coast Guard, Ms Payne assured the President.
Australia currently provides training to military cadets from Sri Lanka, and the Defense Minister acceded to the President’s request to expand training facilities to include middle-level and senior military officers.
Minister John Amaratunga, Deputy Ministers Harsha de Silva, Ajith P. Perera, and the High Commissioner Somasundaram Skandakumar participated on this occasion.
ColomboPage – Recent 10 Stories ::