Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, gestures as he speaks during a news conference in Bern, Switzerland. (Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg)

Iran Links Deadly Attack to U.S-Backed Gulf Ally, EU Nations

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused a Gulf Arab ally of the U.S. of supporting the gunmen who killed at least 29 people in an attack on a military parade and vowed to respond “within the framework of the law.”

“One of the southern countries in the Persian Gulf is backing them financially, providing equipment and political support,” Rouhani said. “The small puppet countries in the region are backed by the U.S. and it’s the U.S. that provokes them.”

Iran Links Deadly Attack to U.S-Backed Gulf Ally, EU Nations

While he didn’t name the country, the remarks are likely aimed at regional rival Saudi Arabia, which is backing President Donald Trump’s drive to isolate Iran and re-impose crippling sanctions against its economy. The two Middle East nations are stuck in proxy confrontations in some of the region’s worst conflicts from Yemen to Syria.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry also signaled that the individuals behind the Ahvaz shooting may have had ties to some European countries.

The ambassadors of the Netherlands and Denmark as well as the chargé d’affaires at the British and the U.A.E embassies in Tehran were summoned on Saturday evening and Sunday morning over the Ahvaz shooting, the official Islamic Republic News Agency and state-run Tasnim news agency reported.

Iran had previously warned about “members of these terrorist groups” residing in Denmark and the Netherlands and had called for their arrest and trial, IRNA reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi.

Qassemi said the U.A.E envoy had been summoned following remarks by an Emirati political commentator who had played down the shooting. The commentator said such incidents would likely multiply, according to Tasnim.

Lodge Complaint

In parallel, Iran’s ambassador to the U.K., Hamid Baeidinejad, criticized the airing of an interview with an official of the group involved in the attack by Farsi-language, U.K.-based satellite channel “Iran International.” In comments on Twitter, Baeidinejad said Iranian authorities will complain to British authorities over the broadcast as it promotes violence.

The Saturday attack occurred at a military parade as gunmen disguised as soldiers opened fire, killing Revolutionary Guards and civilians, including a child and a journalist. Pictures and videos released on local media showed women and children, who had turned up to watch the parade, running for cover.

It was one of the worst militant attacks in the country’s modern history. Both Islamic State militants and an Arab group in the area claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it “will spare no efforts in going after and punishing the criminals, in the region and beyond,” according to a statement published on the state-run Mehr news agency.

“Sworn enemies of Iran in particular the diabolic Western-Hebrew-Arabic triangle in pursuit of their ominous goals” will “not shy away from any plots,” the statement said.

Iranian officials say the U.S., Israel and their allies in the region want to destabilize the Islamic republic by sowing discontent among poorer Iranians and minorities, and fueling chaos.

Eight-Year War

The military parade commemorated of an eight-year war, launched by the late Saddam Hussein in the 80s in which border provinces like Khuzestan suffered significant destruction. Ahvaz is the capital of the Khuzestan province.

The incident is a reminder that Iran’s “defensive power is not only a need but an undeniable necessity,” Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by IRNA on Sunday. “The line pushed by the U.S. that Iran needs no arms is completely wrong and obsolete.”

Khuzestan is home to a large Sunni population and some of the country’s largest oil fields. Though armed groups have engaged in sporadic clashes with security forces, larger organized attacks in city centers are rare. Iran is dominated by Shiite Muslims.

The National Resistance of al-Ahvaz, which describes itself as a general body comprising of a number of smaller groups, accepted responsibility for the attack, according to the BBC. It cited an interview with an official for the Arab Freedom Movement of al-Ahvaz.

The Islamic State also claimed to be behind the attack and pledged more violence to avenge Sunnis. In June 2017, coordinated assaults claimed by Islamic State on the country’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed 17 people.

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