Gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked an annual Iranian military parade Saturday in the country’s oil-rich southwest, killing at least 24 people and wounding 53 in the bloodiest assault to strike the country in recent years.
The attack in Ahvaz saw gunfire sprayed into a crowd of marching Revolutionary Guardsmen, bystanders and government officials watching from a nearby riser. Suspicion immediately fell on the region’s Arab separatists, who previously only attacked unguarded oil pipelines under the cover of darkness.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their “U.S. masters,” calling the gunmen “terrorists recruited, trained armed and paid” by foreign powers. That further raises tensions in the Mideast as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.
“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.
The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard, which like many other places around the country saw an annual parade marking the start of Iran’s long 1980s war with Iraq. Images captured by state television showed journalists and onlookers turn to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire.
“Oh God! Go go go! Lie down! Lie down!” one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.
In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied in their dress uniforms, helped their comrades to ambulances.
The state-run IRNA news agency said the attack killed 24 people and wounded 53, citing “knowledgeable sources” without elaborating. It said gunmen wore Guard uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting.
“We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children,” an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. “They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target.”
Details about the attack remained unclear immediately afterward. The semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, meanwhile said two gunmen on a motorcycle wearing khaki uniforms carried out the attack.
Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told IRNA that two gunmen were killed and two others were arrested.
State TV hours later reported that all four gunmen had been killed, with three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a hospital.