Islamic State claims stunning attack in heart of Iran

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The Islamic State group claimed responsibility Wednesday for a stunning pair of attacks on Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of its modern founder, the first such attack claimed by the Sunni extremist group in the Shiite-ruled nation.

The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran —

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.

 

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.”

 

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.

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