Tehran hard-lin­ers blame Saudis for ter­ror at­tack

Is­lamic State claims re­spon­si­bil­ity

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND CARLO MUÑOZ

Brazen ter­ror­ist at­tacks against Iran’s par­lia­ment and the mau­soleum of the Is­lamic re­pub­lic’s found­ing ay­a­tol­lah es­ca­lated ten­sions across the Mid­dle East on Wed­nes­day, with Ira­nian of­fi­cials quickly blam­ing ri­val Saudi Ara­bia, even though the Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the strikes that left 12 dead and more than 40 wounded in Tehran.

The vi­o­lence, which prompted swift con­dem­na­tions from the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil and gov­ern­ments around the world, marked the first time the Is­lamic State — or any other Salafi Sunni or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing al Qaeda — has struck so deeply in­side Iran, the re­gion’s Shi­ite Mus­lim pow­er­house.

Hard-lin­ers within the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps swiftly put the blame on Saudi Ara­bia, insin­u­at­ing that the Sunni king­dom had a role in the shootings and sui­cide bomb­ings, which rocked par­lia­ment in down­town Tehran and the Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini shrine, a cher­ished ral­ly­ing point for Shi­ites on the city’s outskirts.

In a state­ment just hours af­ter the at­tacks, the IRGC also drew an in­di­rect line to Wash­ing­ton, sug­gest­ing that Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion to make his first of­fi­cial

for­eign visit to Saudi Ara­bia last month had em­bold­ened Riyadh to en­cour­age ter­ror­ist groups to tar­get Iran.

Saudi-Ira­nian fric­tion has in­ten­si­fied since Mr. Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary. The threat from Iran was a key fo­cus of Mr. Trump’s sum­mit with 50 Mus­lim gov­ern­ment lead­ers in Riyadh.

The Saudis, who ve­he­mently deny back­ing the Is­lamic State or any other Sunni ter­ror­ist groups, took the lead this week in a drive to os­tra­cize Qatar, largely be­cause of its nat­u­ral gas deal­ings and gen­er­ally pos­i­tive po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions with Iran.

On a visit to Ger­many on Wed­nes­day, Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel al-Jubeir said there was no ev­i­dence that his coun­try played any role in the at­tacks on Iran.

“We con­demn ter­ror­ist at­tacks any­where they oc­cur, and we con­demn the killing of the in­no­cent any­where it oc­curs,” Mr. al-Jubeir said at an event hosted by the think tank of Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union, ac­cord­ing to the Reuters news agency.

“We don’t know this. We haven’t seen the ev­i­dence,” he said, re­peat­ing Riyadh’s long-stand­ing charge that Iran is the pri­mary spon­sor of ter­ror­ism around the world.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for the “in­no­cent vic­tims” of the at­tack, but a pres­i­den­tial state­ment re­leased by the White House on Wed­nes­day evening sug­gested that Iran, which the U.S. con­sid­ers a state spon­sor of ter­ror­ism, bore at least a share of the blame for the vi­o­lence that hit its cap­i­tal.

“We un­der­score that states that spon­sor ter­ror­ism risk falling vic­tim to the evil they pro­mote,” Mr. Trump said in his state­ment. An ear­lier State De­part­ment state­ment had merely ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for the vic­tims with­out re­fer­ring to Iran’s record on ter­ror­ism.

Iran tar­geted

Dur­ing the chaos, sui­cide bombers and gun­men stormed Iran’s par­lia­ment build­ing and opened fire on Ira­nian law­mak­ers. The three-hour siege ended when se­cu­rity forces killed the gun­men, but not be­fore one sui­cide bomber det­o­nated his vest.

A sep­a­rate team wield­ing AK-47s rushed the Khome­ini shrine, which honors the Shi­ite imam and politi­cian who sparked Iran’s 1979 rev­o­lu­tion. Gun­men wounded wor­ship­pers at the shrine be­fore they were killed by se­cu­rity forces.

Within hours, the Is­lamic State claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity in a state­ment cir­cu­lated on­line via the Amaq news agency, the ter­ror­ist group’s main pro- pa­ganda arm. The Is­lamic State also cir­cu­lated a video clip of the par­lia­ment at­tack, ac­com­pa­nied by a state­ment say- ing, “Do you think we will leave? We will re­main, God will­ing,” ac­cord­ing to The As­so­ci­ated Press.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, down­played the at­tacks, say­ing they would have no ef­fect on the coun­try or its po­si­tion in the re­gion.

“The Ira­nian na­tion is mov­ing ahead, and the fum­bling with fire­crack­ers per­formed to­day will leave no im­pact on peo­ple’s willpower,” he said in a speech to the na­tion. “Ev­ery­one should know that they are too lit­tle to be able to in­flu­ence the willpower of the Ira­nian na­tion and the coun­try’s of­fi­cials.

“God will­ing, they will bite the dust,” Ay­a­tol­lah Khamenei added, ac­cord­ing to state me­dia.

But the hard-line IRGC, which re­ports di­rectly to the supreme leader, is­sued a much more ag­gres­sive re­sponse, ty­ing the at­tacks to the Saudis and to Mr. Trump’s re­cent Riyadh visit.

“The Ira­nian na­tion sees this ter­ror­ist ac­tion that hap­pened a week af­ter the joint meet­ing of the U.S. pres­i­dent with the heads of one of the re­ac­tionary re­gional states that has con­stantly been sup­port­ing Tak­firi ter­ror­ists as to be very mean­ing­ful, and be­lieves that [Is­lamic State’s] ac­knowl­edg­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity in­di­cates their com­plic­ity in this wild move,” the state­ment said.

The IRGC vowed “not to leave unan­swered the shed­ding of in­no­cent blood.”

Tehran’s strong in­ter­nal se­cu­rity con­trols and the lim­ited ap­peal of the Is­lamic State in Per­sian-speak­ing Iran had made it dif­fi­cult for the ter­ror­ist group to mount op­er­a­tions in­side Iran. Tehran’s po­lice chief told the semi-of­fi­cial ISNA news agency that five sus­pects were de­tained af­ter the dual at­tacks, ac­cord­ing to AP.

Gen. Hos­sein Sa­je­dinia said Wed­nes­day night that po­lice are in­ter­ro­gat­ing the sus­pects. He did not elab­o­rate but said Tehran is safe and po­lice and other se­cu­rity forces are de­ployed and closely mon­i­tor­ing the cap­i­tal.

Widen­ing bat­tle of wills

The at­tack could ex­ac­er­bate an al­ready tense bat­tle of wills across the re­gion.

“Ira­ni­ans be­lieve there has been a lot of provo­ca­tion, but they’ve been very re­strained so far vis-a-vis Saudi Ara­bia,” said Trita Parsi, who heads the Na­tional Ira­nian Amer­i­can Coun­cil. “Now the na­tion’s lead­ers are go­ing to be un­der a lot of pressure from the Ira­nian pub­lic to re­spond in some way.”

Mr. Parsi said ag­gres­sive state­ments by Saudi lead­ers have “created a con­text in which the IRGC can con­vince the Ira­nian pub­lic not only that the Saudis were con­nected to Wed­nes­day’s at­tack, but that the U.S. is also con­nected,” even if there may not be any ev­i­dence for such.

Other re­gional an­a­lysts pre­dicted that the at­tacks could open the door to more ag­gres­sive ac­tions by Ira­nian proxy forces, par­tic­u­larly those fight­ing the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria. Iran-backed Shi­ite paramil­i­taries known as the Pop­u­lar Mo­bi­liza­tion Units have played a key role in the on­go­ing as­sault on the Is­lamic State’s re­doubt of Mo­sul.

With the Mo­sul op­er­a­tion ex­pected to wrap up within weeks, sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ments of the PMUs could move across the bor­der into Syria to take on the Is­lamic State there, said David Pol­lock, a se­nior Mid­dle East an­a­lyst at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy.

“They are al­ready there in great num­bers,” Mr. Pol­lock said Wed­nes­day dur­ing a sym­po­sium spon­sored by the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, not­ing Iran-sup­plied forces ad­vis­ing and fight­ing along­side the forces of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad.

Ira­nian paramil­i­taries fought along­side regime forces against mod­er­ate rebels for most of the 6-year-old Syr­ian civil war. Ear­lier this year, with the sup­port of a blis­ter­ing Rus­sian aerial as­sault, Ira­nian and regime forces were able to re­take the rebel strong­hold of Aleppo, which had been un­der op­po­si­tion con­trol for four years.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Po­lice of­fi­cers con­trolled the scene around the shrine of Ira­nian rev­o­lu­tion­ary founder Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini af­ter sev­eral gun­men and sui­cide bombers struck Tehran.

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