Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has blamed Saudi Arabia for two deadly attacks in Tehran carried out by Islamic State (Isil) fighters, a move that threatened to escalate the terrorists’ actions into a regional confrontation between Sunni and Shia powers.
Gunmen and suicide bombers from Isil killed 12 people when they assaulted the Iranian parliament and a symbolic shrine to Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian revolution, on Wednesday morning in their first major attack against Iran.
In a statement released hours after the attacks, the Revolutionary Guard said it held Saudi Arabia responsible for the Sunni jihadist group’s actions and promised revenge. Iranian commanders pointed the recent summit between Donald Trump and Gulf Arab leaders, where Saudi Arabia called for a harder line against Iran.
“This terrorist attack happened only a week after the meeting between the US president and the backward [Saudi] leaders who support terrorists. The fact that Islamic State has claimed responsibility proves that they were involved in the brutal attack,” the Revolutionary Guard said.
— Golnar Motevalli (@golnarM) 7 июня 2017 г.
There was no immediate response from Saudi Arabia and Iran did not specify what steps it planned to take in response to the attack. But the accusations appeared to be achieve what Isil was hoping for: a spike in tensions in between the Middle East’s leading Sunni and Shia countries.
One team of assailants entered the parliament building in central Tehran, reportedly disguised as women, and opened fire on security guards before taking hostages. The siege came to an end after four hours when one of the attackers detonated a suicide vest.
A second group attacked a highly symbolic shrine to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, a few miles away from parliament. One of the attackers blew himself up and a second was shot dead by security forces.
The two sites are twin symbols of Iran’s political system mixes theocracy with elements of a democratic system.
Isil claimed responsibility for the attacks while the siege inside parliament was still unfolding, an unusually rapid response that suggested the attack was centrally planned. “Fighters from the Islamic State attacked the shrine of Khomeini and the Iranian parliament building in the centre of Tehran,” the group said in a statement through its official Amaq news agency.
Even more unusually, Amaq released a graphic video of the parliament attack while fighting was still going on. The 24-minute video showed two Isil gunmen in an office, firing bullets into a bloodied body on the floor. “Do you think that we are going to leave? We will remain here, God willing,” one said.
Iran is deeply involved in the fight against Isil in Iraq, where it controls a network of Shia militias and also in Syria where it has propped up the Assad regime. Isil often seeks to exploit sectarian divisions in the Middle East and fuel a narrative of war between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
“Sectarian rhetoric is catnip for the Islamic State,” said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study Radicalisation. “It gives credit to their ideological position that Sunni and Shia Islam are fundamentally incompatible.”
The attacks in Tehran were condemned by Britain and European leaders. Nicholas Hopton, the British ambassador to Iran, said: “My sympathy to all the innocent victims and those affected by the terrible incidents in Tehran today.”
The US also condemned the attack. “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,” the US State Department said.
Iran’s parliament continued meeting even as shooting erupted outside the main chamber. Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament, dismissed the attacks, saying they were a “trivial matter” and that security forces were dealing with them.
Iranian MPs posted selfies from inside the parliamentary chamber in a show of defiance.