Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed on Sunday that an unnamed United States-allied country supports the group that attacked a military parade in his country a day earlier.
Speaking before boarding a plane to New York, he said that US supports small nations in the southern Persian Gulf that in turn back the militants behind the attack. He did not identify the attackers, though Arab separatists claimed the assault, which killed 29 people and wounded more than 60, and Iranian officials appear to have accepted the claim.
“The small puppet countries in the region are backed by America, and the United States is provoking them and giving them the necessary capabilities,” Rouhani charged, according to Reuters.
“Iran’s answer is forthcoming within the framework of law and our national interests,” he added, vowing the US would regret its “aggressiveness.”
In the Gulf, the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain are all close US military allies.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE view Iran as a regional menace and have long accused it of meddling in other countries’ affairs. Iran backs terror groups across the region.
The 29 people killed in the shooting attack in Ahvaz included at least 10 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.
Initially, authorities described the assailants as “takfiri gunmen,” a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his long war against a broad range of rebel factions that includes IS and other jihadist groups.
A military spokesperson also charged that “the United States and Israeli Mossad” had instigated the attack.
Iran and the US are at loggerheads over the reimposition of US sanctions after Washington withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers earlier this year. The Trump administration has said it is seeking to pressure Iran over its nuclear program and military interventions throughout the Middle East.
Tehran has repeatedly accused the US of seeking regime change.
But late on Saturday, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible. The separatists accuse Iran’s Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority.
Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, of funding Arab separatists’ activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the attack, though a Saudi-linked, Persian-language satellite channel based in the United Kingdom immediately carried an interview with an Ahvazi activist claiming Saturday’s attack.
Yacoub Hor al-Tostari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahvaz, later told the AP that members of an umbrella group of Ahvazi activists his organization leads carried out the attack.
The attack undermined the Iranian government “on the day it wants to give a message to the world that it is powerful and in control,” al-Tostari said. To bolster his claim, he gave details about one of the attackers that the AP could not immediately verify.
Late on Saturday, Iran summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain over the attack, state-run media said on Sunday.
The Dutch and Danish ambassadors and the British charge d’affaires were “informed of Iran’s strong protests over their respective countries’ hosting of some members of the terrorist group” that carried out the attack, official news agency IRNA said.
Iran called on Denmark and the Netherlands to extradite the attack’s “perpetrators and their accomplices” to stand trial, IRNA said, citing foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi.
“It is not acceptable that the European Union does not blacklist members of these terrorist groups as long as they do not perpetrate a crime on… European soil,” Qasemi was quoted as saying.
The British charge d’affaires, summoned in the ambassador’s absence, was told it was unacceptable “that the spokesman for the Al-Ahvazi terrorist group was allowed to claim responsibility of the attack through a London-based TV network,” according to the news agency.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, called the channel’s decision a “heinous act” in a post on Twitter and said his country would file a complaint with British authorities over the broadcast.
The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on its Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault. They also initially wrongly said the Ahvaz attack targeted Rouhani, who was in Tehran. The group has made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in Iraq and Syria.
Rouhani has vowed a “crushing” response to the attack in the province of Khuzestan, which borders Iraq and has a large ethnic Arab community.
Agencies contributed to this report.