DUBAI, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader vowed revenge on Thursday for threatening the country’s security after the massacre of Shiite pilgrims, an attack claimed by Islamic State that threatened to escalate tensions amid widespread anti-government protests.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attackers “will certainly be punished” and urged Iranians to unite. “It is the duty of all of us to confront the enemy and his traitorous or ignorant agents,” he said in a statement read on state television a day after the attack killed 15 people.
Khamenei’s call for unity appeared to be directed mostly at government loyalists and not at protesters whose nearly six-week protests are viewed by authorities as a threat to national security.
Iran’s clerical regime has faced nationwide protests since the September 22 death of Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody. 16.
Iranians have called for Khamenei’s death and the end of the Islamic Republic during the protests, which have been one of the boldest challenges to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution, sending many Iranians into the streets.
Officials said they had arrested a gunman who attacked the Shah Cheragh shrine in the city of Shiraz. State media blamed “Takfiri terrorists” – a label mainly used by Shiite Iran for radical Sunni Muslim militants like the Islamic State.
A senior official said the condition of the suspected attacker in the police firing is critical.
“We are yet to interrogate him,” deputy provincial governor Ismail Mohebipour was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
CCTV footage broadcast on state TV on Thursday showed the assailant entering the temple hiding an assault rifle in a bag and opening fire as worshipers tried to hide in corridors and escape.
Islamic State, which once posed a security threat across the Middle East, has claimed previous violence in Iran, including a deadly twin attack in 2017 targeting the parliament and the tomb of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
From the height of its power, when it ruled millions of people in the Middle East and terrorized the world with deadly bombings and shootings, the Islamic State has slipped back into the shadows.
Iran often blames the West and its regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia for the attacks. Saudi Arabia denies this and Israel generally refuses to comment on its actions against the Islamic Republic.
Wednesday’s killing of Shiite pilgrims came as Iranian security forces clashed with increasingly hardline protesters, 40 days after Amini’s death.
Iran’s leaders may have hoped that the attack on the shrine would divert attention from the unrest, but there are no signs of that happening.
State news agency IRNA said protesters angry over the protester’s “suspicious” death smashed windows at banks, a tax office and other public buildings in the northwestern city of Mahabad.
Kurdish human rights group Hengao said security forces killed at least five people during protests in the country’s northwest on Thursday, where many Kurds live. It said three people were killed in Mahabad city and two more in Baneh city.
State television confirmed the deaths of three people in Mahabad, saying they died after protesters tried to seize government and security centers. It shows footage of a burning building surrounded by protesters.
Separately, state media said two Basij militiamen were killed in an attack in the northern town of Amol, the epicenter of the protests. A member of the elite Revolutionary Guard was killed by “rioters” using hand grenades in Tehran province, Tasnim news agency reported.
Iranian human rights groups said there were unconfirmed reports that some of Amini’s family members were under house arrest. Reuters could not verify these reports. Reuters tried to reach Amini’s father and brother.
Authorities, who have accused the United States and other Western countries of “rioting,” have not yet announced the death toll, but state media said about 30 members of the security forces were killed.
Activist news agency HRANA said in a posting that at least 252 protesters were killed in the unrest, including 36 minors. It said more than 13,800 people were arrested in protests in 122 cities and towns and about 109 universities.
Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Written by Michael Giorgi and Dominic Evans; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Nick McPhee, Jonathan Otis, and Daniel Wallis
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