‘Do you think we will go away?’

Is­lamic State says it car­ried out Iran at­tack that killed at least 12.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ramin Mostaghim, Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske and Alexan­dra Zavis

TEHRAN — Iran suf­fered its worst ter­ror­ist at­tack in re­cent mem­ory Wed­nes­day, a bold strike by as­sailants armed with ex­plo­sives and as­sault ri­fles against the tomb of the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary founder and the par­lia­ment build­ing that killed at least 12 peo­ple and in­jured 43 oth­ers.

The mil­i­tant group Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity via its Amaq news agency, say­ing the near-si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tacks were car­ried out by “mar­tyr­dom-seek­ing fight­ers with two ex­plo­sive vests.” If true, it would be the Sunni Mus­lim ex­trem­ist group’s first suc­cess­ful at­tack in Shi­ite-led Iran, a na­tion it re­gards as a leader of apos­tates.

Iran’s pow­er­ful Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard put the blame on Saudi Ara­bia and the United States, which have stepped up their al­liance against Tehran and its nu­clear am­bi­tions.

Par­lia­ment was in ses­sion when four as­sailants armed with Kalash­nikov ri­fles and ex­plo­sives stormed the build­ing around mid­morn­ing, said Deputy In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Hos­sein Zolfaghari. At least one was dis­guised as a woman, ac­cord­ing to wit­nesses.

Even as that at­tack was un­der­way, four gun­men and sui­cide bombers struck out­side the shrine of Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini, a ven­er­ated gath­er­ing spot for Shi­ite faith­ful on the south­ern edge of Tehran.

Eleven of the deaths took place at the par­lia­ment

build­ing and one at the shrine, state-run me­dia re­ported. All eight at­tack­ers were also killed and a num­ber of sus­pects taken in for ques­tion­ing, au­thor­i­ties said.

Iran has long been a tar­get of Is­lamic State. The mil­i­tant group re­leased a video in March in which it ac­cused Iran of per­se­cut­ing its Sunni mi­nor­ity and promised to con­quer the coun­try.

But the se­cu­rity forces keep a tight grip, and Iran had so far avoided the kind of deadly ram­page that the mil­i­tants have been in­cit­ing with in­creas­ing fre­quency as they lose ground in their Syr­ian and Iraqi strongholds.

The at­tacks came at a sen­si­tive time in the Per­sian Gulf, where sev­eral of Iran’s ri­vals, em­bold­ened by Pres­i­dent Trump’s re­cent visit to Saudi Ara­bia, sev­ered ties this week with Qatar, the one Arab coun­try in the re­gion that main­tains re­la­tions with Tehran.

They also came the day af­ter a U.S.-backed al­liance of Syr­ian Kur­dish and Arab mili­tias an­nounced the start of a long-awaited as­sault on the city of Raqqah, Is­lamic State’s self-styled cap­i­tal in Syria.

Is­lamic State is “de­fend­ing its brand and en­sur­ing Al Qaeda doesn’t steal it,” said Paul Salem, vice pres­i­dent for pol­icy anal­y­sis, re­search and pro­grams at the Wash­ing­ton-based Mid­dle East In­sti­tute.

“We re­ally are in a sit­u­a­tion of full stand­off be­tween Iran and its friends on one side, and the U.S., Saudi Ara­bia and its friends on the other,” he said. Coun­tries like Qatar, he added, are “caught in that vice.”

The mil­i­tants re­leased a graphic video of the at­tack. “Do you think we will go away?” a nar­ra­tor asks. “We are here to stay, God will­ing.”

The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard noted in a state­ment that the at­tacks hap­pened shortly af­ter Trump’s meet­ing with “one of the re­ac­tionary rulers of the re­gion,” an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Saudi King Sal­man.

It called the tim­ing “a mean­ing­ful co­in­ci­dence” and said Is­lamic State’s claim was fur­ther ev­i­dence that “the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent and the re­ac­tionary ruler are in­volved in this bru­tal­ity.”

The as­sault drew swift con­dem­na­tion and ex­pres­sions of con­do­lence from coun­tries such as Syria, Pak­istan and Rus­sia.

Hours later, Trump is­sued a two-sen­tence state­ment in which he said, “We grieve and pray for the in­no­cent vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Iran, and for the Ira­nian peo­ple.”

But Trump sug­gested that Iran shared in the blame, warn­ing that “states that spon­sor ter­ror­ism risk falling vic­tim to the evil they pro­mote.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made Iran the fo­cus of its anti-ter­ror­ism rhetoric and poli­cies, ap­par­ently cre­at­ing a quandary for how to re­spond when Iran it­self is the tar­get of an at­tack.

The U.S. has long con­sid­ered Iran to be a spon­sor of ter­ror­ism out­side its bor­ders. Yet Tehran has been ac­tive in the fight against Is­lamic State, an­other stated pri­or­ity of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The State De­part­ment also is­sued a brief state­ment, say­ing, “The de­prav­ity of ter­ror­ism has no place in a peace­ful, civ­i­lized world.”

But it point­edly did not ex­press sol­i­dar­ity with Iran’s gov­ern­ment or of­fer as­sis­tance. Separately, the Se­nate voted over­whelm­ingly Wed­nes­day to ad­vance a bill that would im­pose new sanc­tions on Iran over its bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­gram and sup­ply of weapons to mil­i­tant groups.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, played down the sig­nif­i­cance of the at­tacks, say­ing, “These fire­works have no im­pact on the willpower of the peo­ple.” But ex­perts said they were bound to cause alarm, es­pe­cially as the coun­try’s lead­er­ship had as­sured res­i­dents that fight­ing Sunni mil­i­tants in Iraq and Syria would keep them from at­tack­ing Iran.

The mil­i­tants “have at­tacked the beat­ing heart, the nerve cen­ter of the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion,” said Fawaz Gerges, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics. “For many Ira­ni­ans, now, they are on our streets.”

The siege at par­lia­ment lasted about three hours, and it ap­peared that not all law­mak­ers were aware of the ex­tent of the vi­o­lence at first.

Hesh­ma­tol­lah Fala­hat­pisheh, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment, said law­mak­ers were in reg­u­lar ses­sion when a cou­ple of col­leagues ar­rived about 10:15 a.m. with blood­stains on their cloth­ing.

“Daesh has at­tacked,” Fala­hat­pisheh re­called them say­ing, us­ing a com­mon Ara­bic acro­nym for Is­lamic State. “We con­tin­ued … dis­cus­sions un­til 1 p.m., when we heard the shoot­ing.”

He said his blood­stained col­leagues told them the at­tack­ers had en­tered the build­ing through the west­ern gate, through which con­stituents nor­mally en­ter to meet with mem­bers of par­lia­ment. At least one of the at­tack­ers ap­peared to be dressed in the tra­di­tional black robe worn by many Ira­nian women.

“The ter­ror­ist wrapped up in a black chador and car­ry­ing a gun en­tered, shot the gate guard and opened the gate for his fel­low ter­ror­ists,” Fala­hat­pisheh said. “They started shoot­ing.”

Af­ter 1 p.m, an elite law en­force­ment force stormed the build­ing and law­mak­ers were able to leave through the south­ern gate, he said.

Mo­ham­mad Ali Saki, editor of the English-lan­guage Tehran Times, said four as­sailants at­tacked an ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ing next to par­lia­ment, tar­get­ing guards, clean­ers and other work­ers, but never got near the par­lia­ment cham­ber.

“The main door where par­lia­men­tar­i­ans en­ter has not been tar­geted,” Saki said.

Word of the at­tack quickly spread to the streets out­side. Ali Reza Kian­pour, a jour­nal­ist at Shahrvand news­pa­per in Tehran, said he was near the par­lia­ment build­ing when the at­tack was just start­ing.

“I heard a sound and some­one shout­ing they needed help,” he said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “And then I heard am­bu­lances com­ing.”

Kian­pour saw two peo­ple emerge who ap­peared to be wounded. “Some of the peo­ple started to be let out and they told me they were in shock,” he said.

Po­lice ini­tially di­rected the city’s 14 mil­lion res­i­dents to avoid the down­town area and pub­lic trans­porta­tion.

Af­ter the end of the siege, par­lia­men­tary Speaker Ali Lar­i­jani made a de­fi­ant ad­dress to law­mak­ers.

“This morn­ing a few ter­ror­ists com­mit­ted a cow­ardly ter­ror­ist ac­tion, were se­ri­ously brought down, and par­lia­men­tar­i­ans are do­ing their nor­mal jobs,” he said. “Iran is a pil­lar in fight­ing ter­ror­ism. They want to make a prob­lem, but the prob­lem will be solved.”

Ebrahim Noroozi As­so­ci­ated Press

PO­LICE pa­trol af­ter four gun­men and sui­cide bombers struck at the shrine of Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini.

Omid Va­habzadeh Getty Images

A CHILD is low­ered from a win­dow of Iran’s par­lia­ment build­ing af­ter four as­sailants armed with Kalash­nikov rif les and ex­plo­sives stormed the build­ing.

Sources: Times re­port­ing, Mapzen, OpenStreetMap

Kyle Kim Los An­ge­les Times

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