ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) - Unknown gunmen opened fire on Saturday morning during a military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, killing and injuring several people, state television reported.
According to state-run media, 24 had been killed, including 12 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and 53 people had been wounded.
In the early afternoon, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded, "Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz," on social media. "Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives."
The moment the attack begins is shown in the social media post below. At first, those present appear to think that the gunfire could be part of the ceremony, but then quickly realize it is a hostile attack and immediately begin to scramble from the scene.
Ahvaz National Resistance Spokesperson Yaqoob al-Ahvaz later claimed responsibility for the attack in comments made to Iran International TV, saying, "We have no choice but to resist." The Ahvaz National Resistance is one of the groups that make up the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz (ASMLA), an umbrella group for Iranian Ahvazi opposition parties.
Ahvaz is the capital of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, which has seen multiple attacks on oil pipelines by Arab separatists in the past.
Arabs are one of several major non-Persian ethnic groups in Iran that also include Kurds, Turks, and Baluch.
In 2015, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both protested an Iranian crackdown against Ahvazi Arabs, as the regime undertook a large-scale campaign of arbitrary arrests in Khuzestan Province, where Ahvazis live and where most of Iran’s oil and gas reserves are located. The arrests were triggered by mass protests that coincided roughly with the anniversary of Ahvazi demonstrations a decade before.
Hours later, the Islamic State (IS) in an online statement also claimed responsibility for the attack, but falsely stated that President Rouhani was at the scene when it occurred, as some early media reports had done.
On Friday, the IRGC and the Iranian army also held a joint aerial military drill in the Gulf, where the US keeps maintains a fleet to protect oil shipping routes, as reported by Reuters.
“In addition to a show of strength, this ceremony is a message of peace and friendship for friendly and neighboring countries,” Colonel Yousef Safipour, the deputy commander of the army for public relations said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Iran has recently said that it was able to stage military operations in the Gulf to block oil exports in retaliation for US sanctions put in place to severely limit its petroleum exports.
“And if the enemies and arrogant powers have an eye on the borders and land of Islamic Iran they will receive a pounding reply in the fraction of a second.”
Iran is also currently facing intensified attacks in its Kurdish-majority provinces (Rojhilat) and along its Western border with the Kurdistan Region, where Kurdish opposition groups operate.
Editing by John J. Catherine