Iran’s Khamenei vows revenge after deadly attack on Shi’ite pilgrims

DUBAI, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader vowed on Thursday to retaliate against those who threaten the country’s security after a massacre of Shiite pilgrims. The attack was claimed by Islamic State and threatens to inflame tensions amid widespread anti-government protests.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attackers “will definitely be punished” and called on Iranians to unite. “We all have a duty to deal with the enemy and his traitorous or ignorant agents,” he said in a statement on state television a day after the attack that killed 15 people.

Khamenei’s call for unity appears to be aimed at government loyalists rather than opponents of the nearly six-week-old movement, which authorities see as a threat to national security.

Iran’s religious leaders have been holding protests across the country since the September 16 killing of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman by police.

Khamenei’s death and many Iranians took to the streets to call for an end to the Islamic Republic in protests that marked one of the boldest challenges to the religious leadership since the 1979 revolution.

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Officials said they arrested the attacker at the Shah Cherag Mosque in Shiraz. State media have blamed “Takfiri terrorists,” a label used by predominantly Shiite Iran for Sunni Muslim militants such as the Islamic State.

The suspect in the attack is in critical condition after being shot by police, a senior official said.

“We haven’t been able to interrogate him yet,” deputy governor Ismail Mohebipour was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

CCTV footage aired on state television on Thursday showed the attacker entering the mosque after putting his gun in a bag and shooting worshipers as they fled and tried to hide in the corridors.

The Islamic State group, once a security threat across the Middle East, has previously claimed violence in Iran, including twin attacks in 2017 that targeted parliament and the shrine of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Since the height of its power, when it ruled millions of people in the Middle East and posed a terrifying threat to the world, the Islamic State has retreated back into the shadows.

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Iran often blames the West and its regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia for the attack. Saudi Arabia denies this, and Israel often refuses to comment on its actions against the Islamic Republic.

Wednesday’s killing of Shiite pilgrims came as Iranian security forces clashed with increasingly violent protesters 40 days after Amini’s death.

Iranian leaders hoped the attack on the shrine would distract from the unrest, but there is no sign of that happening.

According to the official news agency IRNA, protesters in the northwestern city of Mahabad broke the windows of a bank, tax office and other public buildings, angered by the death of a “suspect”.

Security forces killed at least five people during protests in the Kurdish-majority northwest on Thursday, Kurdish rights group Hengau said. Three were killed in Mahabad and two in Bane.

State television confirmed that three people were killed in Mahabad, after protesters tried to take over government and security centers. Protesters showed footage of buildings burning around them.

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Two Basij militants were killed in an attack in the northern town of Amol, a hotbed of protests, state media reported. According to “Tasnim” agency, a member of the elite Revolutionary Guards was killed by “rioters” using hand grenades in Tehran province.

Iranian human rights organizations say there are unconfirmed reports that some members of Amini’s family are under house arrest. Reuters could not confirm these reports. Reuters tried to contact Amini’s father and brother.

Authorities, which accuse the United States and other Western countries of fomenting “riots,” have yet to release a death toll, but local media said around 30 security forces were killed.

Activist news agency HRANA reported that at least 252 protesters were killed during the unrest, including 36 minors. More than 13,800 people were arrested during the protests in 122 cities and towns and 109 universities.

Dubai News Center reporting; Written by Michael Georgi and Dominic Evans; Directed by Clarence Fernandez, Nick McPhee, Jonathan Oatis and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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