In rare attacks in Tehran, gunmen storm parliament and shrine in assaults claimed by Islamic State – Washington Post

Gunmen stormed two major sites in Iran’s capital Wednesday, killing at least 12 people in gunfire and suicide blasts in parliament and at the revered tomb of the nation’s Islamic revolutionary leader. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Tehran attacks, which would mark the group’s first major strikes in Iran.

The twin attacks — coming in the middle of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — also appeared calculated for maximum shock among Iranians.

Parliament is widely respected as a voice on domestic policies even as the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has the final word on most international and security issues. The vast shrine complex of Khamenei’s predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, is a centerpiece of homage to the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew Iran’s Western-allied monarchy.

The timing, meanwhile, could have been designed as an attempt to boost the Islamic State’s stature among backers as it faces a two-pronged assault against its key urban strongholds: Mosul in northern Iraq and the Islamic State’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in Syria. An expanded offensive by U.S.-backed forces against Raqqa began Tuesday.

“It is indeed a boost to ISIS morale, especially given that it’s the first successful attack in Iran,” said Dina Esfandiary, who studies global security issues at the Center for Science and Security Studies at King’s College in London.

State-run broadcaster IRIB reported that the twin attacks killed at least 12 people and wounded 42 during an hours-long standoff that ended when all four attackers were killed by security forces.

The Islamic State’s Amaq news agency claimed that the militant group carried out the twin attacks. The Islamic State, however, is often quick to take ownership of spectacular assaults without providing evidence.

Iran is predominantly Shiite Muslim and is at odds with Sunni extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which view Shiites as heretics and have attacked Shiite targets and Iranian religious pilgrims in Iraq and elsewhere across the region.

Shiite factions backed by Iran, meanwhile, have joined battles against the Islamic State in Iraq and have aided the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Despite years of tensions between Iran and the Islamic State, the purported terrorist blow in Tehran would signify a serious escalation by the militants in the region after claiming a wave of attacks in Europe.

For Iran, it also sharply raises the stakes because of the importance of both sites.

Iran views its parliament, or Majlis, as a symbol of participatory government in contrast to its main regional rivals, including Saudi Arabia and allied sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf. The expansive complex around the tomb of Khomeini is both a spiritual and political testament to the Islamic revolution.

The huge courtyard and buildings, including blue-tiled domes that tower over the mausoleum, are particularly filled with visitors during the holy month of Ramadan, which began two weeks ago.

Attacks of this kind are a rarity in Iran’s capital, where security forces are deployed at prominent sites. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps also maintains a vast network of informants and allies around the country through a volunteer paramilitary force called the Basij.

The parliament building, with a green marble chamber for lawmakers, is in the center of the city, and Khomeini’s tomb complex is about 12 miles to the south near the international airport.

“Some coward terrorists infiltrated a building in the Majlis, but they were seriously confronted,” parliament speaker Ali Larijani told the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). “This is a minor issue but reveals that the terrorists pursue troublemaking.”

A 24-second video posted by Amaq purported to show a gunman during the parliament siege standing over the body of a man lying next to a desk. An off-camera voice says in Arabic: “Do you think we will leave? We will remain, God willing,” according to the Associated Press. Similar words have been used by Islamic State leaders.

Iranian intelligence, meanwhile, said it had foiled a third attack and arrested a team, according to the state broadcaster. The statement from the Islamic State did not mention a third attack.

Ali Khalili of the Khomeini Mausoleum told IRNA that at least three, possibly four, attackers opened fire on the tomb and that one of them detonated a suicide blast at the entrance.

Lawmaker Qolam-Ali Jafarzadeh Imenabadi, meanwhile, put the number of attackers at the parliament at four and said they were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles.

One of the attackers at the parliament was arrested, the news agency added, and another set off a suicide vest.

Iran has suffered from terrorist attacks in the past, but rarely in cities or the capital in recent years. Separatist groups and Sunni extremist movements have carried out bombings in the border region near Pakistan in the past, including a suicide attack on a mosque in 2010 that killed 39.

The violence in Tehran added to swelling sense of bedlam and instability across the Persian Gulf region. In addition to a civil war raging in Yemen and the ongoing war in Iraq against the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations announced this week they were severing virtually all ties with the government of Qatar because of what they said was Qatar’s support for terrorist groups.

The extraordinary rift between the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar showed the degree to which Iran’s increasingly muscular role in the region — including its intervention in Syria’s civil war — has stirred fury among its Arab rivals. Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies, including Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have expressed growing anger at Qatar’s relatively cordial relations with Shiite Iran.

In 1998, Taliban militants raided the Iranian Consulate in the northern Afghan city Mazar-e Sharif, killing eight Iranian diplomats and an IRNA correspondent.

Kareem Fahim in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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