Iran claims US, Israel responsible for military parade attack killing 29
Behrad Ghasemi/ISNA via AP
An Iranian spokesman for the army tied the United States and Israel to the attack on an army parade in southern Iran that killed at least 29 people and wounded at least 50 more, according to the latest toll by the official IRNA news agency.
"These terrorists...were trained & organized by two...Gulf countries," Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told IRNA, insinuating that US allies in the region were responsible before adding, "They are not from Daesh or other groups fighting Iran...but they are linked to America & Mossad," directly calling out the Israeli spy agency.
A "group of assailants" attacked the parade in the city of Ahvaz, held to mark the anniversary of the start of the devastating eight-year war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1980, Iranian state television reported.
"The response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing", Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on his official website. "Those who give intelligence and propaganda support to these terrorists must answer for it."
Meanwhile Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed a "foreign regime" backed by the United States for paying, recruiting, and training terrorists for the assault in Ahvaz.
"Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks" Zarif wrote in a tweet on Saturday.
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.
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. pic.twitter.com/WG1J1wgVD9— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) September 22, 2018
"Those who opened fire on civilians and the armed forces have links to the Ahvazi movement," Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told ISNA. "They are funded by Saudi Arabia and attempted to cast a shadow over the Iranian armed forces."
Zarif vowed Iran would "respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives".
The semi-official Fars news agency said two gunmen opened fire on the large crowd of spectators and then attempted to attack the viewing stand for official dignitaries before being shot and wounded by security forces.
Photographers and participants looked around looking around in surprise after a burst of gunfire, and then crowds fleeing in panic and a second round erupted moments later, according to footage published by the same news agency.
Another clip posted by English-language Press TV showed parade participants and onlookers lying faced-down on the road while gunfire continued for more than a minute.
A source told IRNA that the death toll stood at 24 but was likely to rise given the large number of wounded.
Russian President Vladmir Putin said on Saturday following the attack that Moscow was prepared to boost its cooperation with Iran in the fight against terrorism, according to state-run RIA news.
Earlier, ISNA quoted Khuzestan province's deputy governor Ali-Hossein Hosseinzadeh as saying 11 people were killed, including a journalist.
"The wounded are in a critical condition," he added.
The rare attack targeted Khuzestan, a province bordering Iraq that has a large ethnic Arab community, many of them Sunni, and was a major battleground of the devastating 1980-88 conflict between Iran and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Saturday's rally was one of many in cities across Iran held to mark the anniversary of the launch of the war with massive Iraqi air strikes.
In a message of condolence to Russia's close regional ally, President Vladimir Putin said he was "appalled by this bloody crime."
"This event once again reminds us about the necessity of an uncompromising battle against terrorism in all of its manifestations."
Khuzestan was a major battleground of the 1980s war with Saddam's Iraq and the attack on the anniversary parade in Ahvaz had significant symbolic value.
The province saw unrest in 2005 and 2011 but has since seen been largely quiet.
Attacks by Kurdish rebels on military patrols along the border in mainly ethnic Kurdish areas further north are relatively common.
But attacks on regime targets inside major cities are far rarer.
On June 7, 2017, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks in Tehran on parliament and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ruhollah Khomeini, building -- the first inside Iran claimed by the Sunni Muslim extremists of the Islamic State group.
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani vowed earlier Saturday to boost his country'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," Rouhani said at a separate military parade in the capital.
"The fact that the missiles anger you shows they are our most effective weapons," he said, referring to the West.
Iran has ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,500 kilometres (2,200 miles), enough to reach both Israel and US bases in the Middle East.
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.
Trump and Rouhani will both be in New York next week for the United Nations General Assembly. But Iran has repeatedly ruled out any meeting.
(Staff with AFP)
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