Iran’s Revolutionary Guards targeted in Ahvaz military parade

Four gunmen dressed in fatigues opened fire at a military parade in southwestern Iran, killing at least 29 people including women and children.   

The brazen attack on Saturday in the city of Ahvaz came as the country marked the anniversary of the start of its 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and prompted President Hassan Rouhani to warn of a “crushing response”.

“The response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing,” Rouhani said on his official website. “Those who give intelligence and propaganda support to these terrorists must answer for it.” 

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Those killed included members of the Revolutionary Guards and women and children who had come to watch the parade, the Iranian state-run IRNA news agency said. More than 50 people were wounded.

Three of the attackers died at the scene while a fourth was arrested and later succumbed to his wounds, armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi said.

“We suddenly realised 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 unidentified soldier told state media.  

“They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target.”

Gunfire sprayed into a crowd of marching Guardsmen, bystanders and government officials watching from a nearby riser. 

On Twitter, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif pointed the finger at a “foreign regime” without elaborating.

Mostafa Koshcheshm, a Tehran-based political commentator and journalist, told Al Jazeera that Revolutionary Guards officials were blaming the Ahwazi separatist movement, which has been “nurtured, supported, and trained by Saudi Arabia”.

“It’s been operating for the past several years, they are looking to cut off and separate Iran’s energy rich province of Khuzestan from Iran, which is exactly what Saddam Hussein wanted to do,” said Koshcheshm.

“They call themselves Arab nationalists but we know they have very intimate ties to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq,” he said referring to an Iranian exiled dissident group, which is accused of killing thousands of Iranian civilians and officials. 

Iran’s English language news outlet, Press TV, published a video apparently showing the moment the attack started.

State media described the assailants as “takifiri gunmen” – a term previously used to describe the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

It also showed images of the immediate aftermath where paramedics were seen helping someone in military fatigues laying on the ground. Other armed security personnel shouted at each other in front of what appeared to be a viewing stand for the parade.

Ahvaz is the capital of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province. The province in the past has seen Arab separatists attack oil pipelines.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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