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24 Killed During Iran Military Parade  09/22 08:06

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked an annual Iranian 
military parade Saturday in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 
24 people and wounding 53 in the bloodiest assault to strike the country in 
recent years.

   The attack in Ahvaz saw gunfire sprayed into a crowd of marching 
Revolutionary Guardsmen, bystanders and government officials watching from a 
nearby riser. Suspicion immediately fell on the region's Arab separatists, who 
previously only attacked unguarded oil pipelines under the cover of darkness.

   Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack 
on regional countries and their "U.S. masters," calling the gunmen "terrorists 
recruited, trained armed and paid" by foreign powers. That further raises 
tensions in the Mideast as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers is in 
jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.

   "Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," 
Zarif wrote on Twitter.

   The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz's 
Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard, which like many other places around the country 
saw an annual parade marking the start of Iran's long 1980s war with Iraq. 
Images captured by state television showed journalists and onlookers turn to 
look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and 
civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire.

   "Oh God! Go go go! Lie down! Lie down!" one man screamed as a woman fled 
with her baby.

   In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some 
bloodied in their dress uniforms, helped their comrades to ambulances.

   The state-run IRNA news agency said the attack killed 24 people and wounded 
53, citing "knowledgeable sources" without elaborating. It said gunmen wore 
Guard uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were 
sitting.

   "We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits 
started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on 
women and children," an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. "They were just 
aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target."

   Details about the attack remained unclear immediately afterward. The 
semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, meanwhile said two 
gunmen on a motorcycle wearing khaki uniforms carried out the attack.

   Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told IRNA that two gunmen were killed and 
two others were arrested.

   State TV hours later reported that all four gunmen had been killed, with 
three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a 
hospital.

   Who carried out the assault also remained in question. State television 
immediately 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 country's long war.

   But in the hours following the attack, state media and government officials 
seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were 
responsible. The separatists, however, previously only conducted pipeline 
bombings at night or hit-and-run attacks.

   The separatists accuse Iran's Shiite theocracy of discriminating against its 
Sunni Arab citizens. Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom 
of Saudi Arabia, for funding their activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did 
not immediately acknowledge the attack.

   The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility in a message on its 
Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault. The 
militants have made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in 
Iraq and Syria.

   In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani watched a military parade that 
included ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases 
in the Mideast. Rouhani said the U.S. withdraw from the nuclear deal was an 
attempt to get Iran to give up its military arsenal.

   "Iran neither put its defensive arms aside nor lessens its defensive 
capabilities," Rouhani said. "Iran will add to its defensive power day by day."

   Saturday's attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group 
assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran. 
At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.

   Khomeini led the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Western-backed 
shah to become Iran's first supreme leader until his death in 1989. The assault 
shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after 
the tumult surrounding the Islamic Revolution.

   In the last decade, such attacks have been incredibly rare. In 2009 more 
than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack 
by Sunni extremists in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province.

   Iran's Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary force answerable only to 
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard also has vast holdings in 
Iran's economy.


(KA)

 
 
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