US condemns attacks in Iran as Tehran blames Saudi Arabia
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US condemns attacks in Iran as Tehran blames Saudi Arabia

As death toll raised to 13, supreme leader dismisses twin assaults on parliament, mausoleum as nothing more than 'firecrackers'

Police officers control the scene, around of shrine of late Iranian revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, after an assault by several attackers in Tehran, just outside Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 7, 2017.   (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Police officers control the scene, around of shrine of late Iranian revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, after an assault by several attackers in Tehran, just outside Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The United States on Thursday condemned the twin terrorist attacks in Tehran earlier in the day that left at least 13 people dead and over 40 wounded, as Iran’s supreme leader shrugged off the rare IS-claimed assault.

“The United States condemns the terrorist attacks in Tehran,” US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.

“We express our condolences to the victims and their families, and send our thoughts and prayers to the people of Iran. The depravity of terrorism has no place in a peaceful, civilized world.”

Iran’s emergency services said a total of 13 people were killed and 46 wounded in the twin attacks at the country’s parliament complex in central Tehran and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The condemnation came as Iran’s Revolutionary Guard indirectly blamed Saudi Arabia and the US for the attack.

In a statement, the Guard, a separate military force loyal to the country’s religious rulers, stopped short of alleging direct Saudi involvement in the assaults, but called it “meaningful” that they took place about one week after US President Donald Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia and strongly asserted American support for Riyadh against Iran.

“This terrorist action… after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of the one of the region’s reactionary governments (Saudi Arabia)… shows they are involved,” it added, referring to US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh.

The statement said that Saudi Arabia “constantly supports takfiri [apostate] terrorists,” including the Islamic State group.

IS’s claim of responsibility for the Wednesday attacks “reveals their [Saudi Arabia’s] hand in this barbaric action,” the statement said, vowing the “spilled blood of the innocent will not go unavenged.”

Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter foes. Iran is at the center of the worst diplomatic crisis in the Arab world in years, after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain announced Monday they were cutting diplomatic ties and closing air, sea and land links with the small Gulf state of Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremist groups and of serving the interests of Iran.

However, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dismissed the attacks as nothing more than fire-crackers.

“These fire-crackers that happened today will not have the slightest effect on the will of the people,” he said.

President Hassan Rouhani called for global unity against violent extremism.

“Iran’s message as always is that terrorism is a global problem, and unity to fight extremism, violence and terrorism with regional and international cooperation is the most important need of today’s world,” he said in a statement.

Police in Tehran said all the attackers had been killed by around 3 p.m., some five hours after the attack started.

IS released a video of the attackers from inside the building via its Amaq propaganda agency — a rare claim of responsibility while an attack was still going on, suggesting a degree of coordination.

The Sunni jihadists of IS consider Shiite Iran to be apostate, and Tehran is deeply involved in fighting the group in both Syria and Iraq.

An interior ministry official said the four gunmen at the parliament building were dressed as women and entered through the visitors’ entrance.

A picture taken on June 7, 2017 shows policemen deploying in the main hall of Iranian parliament to protect lawmakers during the attack which targeted the complex on June 7, 2017. (AFP/CHAVOSH HOMAVANDI)
A picture taken on June 7, 2017 shows policemen deploying in the main hall of Iranian parliament to protect lawmakers during the attack which targeted the complex on June 7, 2017. (AFP/CHAVOSH HOMAVANDI)

At roughly the same time, a team of three or four assailants entered the grounds of the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic revolution, killing a gardener and wounding several other people.

Two of the attackers at the shrine, one of them a woman, blew themselves up, while another detonated a suicide vest on the fourth floor of the parliamentary office building.

A picture on social media showed police helping staff escape through windows.

Large crowds gathered around cordons to watch as police struggled to disperse the crowds.

Parliament was in session as the attacks unfolded and members were keen to show they were undeterred, continuing with regular business.

Some posted selfies of themselves looking calm, even as gun battles raged in surrounding office buildings and snipers took position on nearby rooftops.

The speaker of Iran’s parliament described Wednesday’s terror attack as a “minor incident,” the Iranian Mehr news agency reported.

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (photo credit: AP/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani (AP/Vahid Salemi)

Ali Larijani chaired business-as-usual proceedings within the parliamentary chamber while gunfights went on elsewhere in the building.

He described Iran as an “active and effective hub for combating terrorism” and said terrorists wanted to undermine this.

As he spoke, some lawmakers shouted, “Death to America.”

State news channels said parliament had gone back to work shortly after the first reports of gunfire, while other channels avoided reporting on the attack altogether.

Jihadist groups have clashed frequently with security forces along Iran’s borders with Iraq and Afghanistan, but the country has largely escaped attacks within its urban centers.

The intelligence ministry said in June 2016 that it had foiled a plot to carry out multiple bomb attacks in Tehran and around the country.

IS published a rare video in Persian in March, warning that it “will conquer Iran and restore it to the Sunni Muslim nation as it was before.”

Iran, the predominant Shiite power, has been helping both Iraq and President Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria to battle IS.

The jihadist group is under increasing pressure in both countries, having lost significant territory in the face of offensives now targeting its last two major urban bastions, Raqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq.

Militant groups are also known to operate in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Pakistan and has a large Sunni community.

Jaish-ul Adl (Army of Justice), which Tehran accuses of links with al-Qaeda, has carried out several armed attacks on Iranian soil in recent years.

The Kremlin, which has been fighting IS in Syria and Iraq together with Iran and Syria’s Assad, condemned the attacks in Tehran and called for greater coordination in the fight against the group.

“Moscow decisively condemns such terrorist attacks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that “the continuation of a series of terror attacks again underlines the need for coordinated actions in the fight against terror and IS.”

United Arab Emirates also condemned the attacks.

“Our position on terrorism is very clear… Any terrorist attack in any country, in any capital, directed at innocent people is something that the UAE abhors and the UAE condemns,” state minister for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash told AFP.

The European Unions high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, sent her condolences to the victims of the Tehran attacks and said she was following events very closely on this “very sad day again.”

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