Gunmen attacked a military parade in Iran’s southern city of Ahvaz on Saturday, killing at least 24 people and injuring 53, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported on its website, citing an “informed source” it didn’t identify.
Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and civilians, including a child and a journalist, were among those killed, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, citing the deputy governor of Khuzestan, Hossein Hosseinzadeh, who said at least 60 people had been injured.
State media and officials immediately described the attackers as terrorists. The attack targeted an annual military parade in Ahvaz, the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province in Iran’s southwest. The area, bordering Iraq and the Persian Gulf, is home to a significant Sunni Arab population. Several of Iran’s largest oil fields are located in the province.
Several semi-official news outlets with reporters at the scene said the attackers were dressed in military fatigues and had approached the parade from a park, behind a temporary stand from where officials had been watching the ceremony.
Several armed men who had been standing in the crowds watching the parade began firing randomly, Brigadier-General Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the IRGC, told state TV in a phone interview. Four attackers were involved and three of them have been killed by security forces who were on the scene and another was in custody in hospital after being wounded, Shekarchi said.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on twitter that Iran would respond “swiftly and decisively” to the attack, which he blamed on “regional terror sponsors and their U.S. masters.”
The national resistance of al-Ahvaz, which is a general body that includes a number of groups, accepts responsibility. This operation was part of our legitimate resistance and no ordinary civilian was targeted, the BBC reported, citing an interview with a spokesperson for the Arab Freedom Movement of al-Ahvaz.
In Nov. 2012, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News agency said the ministry of Intelligence had arrested a number of members of the group for their links to several bomb attacks in Khuzestan, including three in Ahvaz, which targeted government offices and banks. They were accused of “being connected to foreign intelligence services,” ISNA reported at the time.
The incident comes as the Iranian government tries to parry what it sees as a U.S.-led war on its economy after President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions. Iran sees Washington’s main Arab ally in the region and a vocal critic of the nuclear deal, Saudi Arabia, as enabling U.S. economic policies against it and trying to foment unrest in the country.
Protests against the government and its handling of the economy that erupted across many provinces late last year also took place in some cities in Khuzestan, where some of the most violent incidents took place.
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