- Women and children among casualties – state media
- President says Iran will respond to attack
- Protesters mark 40 days of Mahsa Amini’s death in custody
DUBAI, Oct 26 (Reuters) – The militant group Islamic State said it attacked a Shiite Muslim holy site in Iran on Wednesday, killing 15 people, escalating tensions in the country and sparking a wave of protests , and sparked a warning Tehran’s response.
Iranian officials say they have arrested a gunman who carried out an attack on the Shrine of Shahchera in Shiraz. State media blamed it on “takfiri terrorists” – a label Tehran uses for hardline Sunni Muslim militants such as ISIS.
The group claims to have carried out previous attacks in Iran, including a deadly double bomb blast in 2017 against the Iranian parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic.
Wednesday’s killing of Shiite pilgrims came on the same day that Iranian security forces clashed with increasingly fierce protesters to commemorate the 40-day death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody.
Interior Minister Ahmed Wahidi accused the protests sweeping Iran of paving the way for the Shiraz attack, and President Ibrahim Raisi said Iran would respond, state media reported.
“Experience has shown that Iran’s enemies will retaliate with violence and terror after failing to divide the nation’s ranks,” Raisi said before ISIS released its statement of responsibility.
“This crime will never go unsolved, and security and law enforcement forces will teach a lesson to those who designed and carried out this attack.”
The semi-official Tasnim news agency said the attacker fired at an employee at the entrance to the shrine, who was chased by bystanders, before his rifle jammed.
He managed to fix the gun, opened fire on the pursuers, and then entered a yard and shot the believers. It said several women and children were among the dead.
A witness in Shah Cheragh told state television: “I heard gunshots after we prayed. We went to a room next to the shrine and this vile man came and fired a shot. Then (the bullet) hit me. Arm and leg, it hit my wife in the back, but thank God my child didn’t get hit, he’s seven years old.”
The Shiraz attack came at the end of a day of confrontations between security forces and protesters across the country, with video footage showing the most violent clashes in the unrest more than a month after Amini’s death.
The demonstrations have become one of the biggest challenges to civilian leadership since the 1979 revolution. Large numbers of Iranians took to the streets, some calling for the fall of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the death of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Security forces opened fire on mourners in Amini’s Kurdish hometown of Sakiz on Wednesday, according to a witness.
“Riot police shot and killed mourners who had gathered at the cemetery for Massa’s memorial service… Dozens of people were arrested,” witnesses said. Iranian authorities could not be reached for comment.
About 10,000 people were at the cemetery, the semi-official ISNA news agency said, adding that the internet was cut off after security forces clashed with people there.
Videos on social media showed crowds filling the streets of many cities, with bazaars in Tehran and others closed as people chanted “Death to Khamenei”.
1500tasvir, a Twitter account following the protests in Iran with 280,000 followers, reported on the “brutal crackdown” on protesters in multiple locations in Tehran, including a rally at the Tehran Medical Association.
Video footage on social media appeared to show Basky militias firing on protesters in Tehran.
Other videos showed protesters chasing riot police and throwing rocks. They also showed protesters in the holy Shiite city of Mashhad setting fire to motorcycles of riot police. In Tehran, a protester attacked a police officer, while in the city of Qazvin, riot police opened fire on protesters.
Some protesters chanted: “We will fight, we will die, we will bring Iran back” from its cleric ruler.
Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the video.
An elite Revolutionary Guard member was shot dead by “thugs” in the western city of Malay, state news agency IRNA said.
A former Iranian reformist official said the spread of the protests appeared to have caught the authorities by surprise, in contrast to the agency’s claim that its support for the Islamic system was overwhelming.
While some analysts say prospects for a new political order are slim, activists say the wall of fear has come down and the road to a new revolution is irreversible.
Students played a key role in the protests, with dozens of universities on strike. Despite a harsh crackdown by security forces, hundreds of schoolgirls joined in, chanting “freedom, freedom, freedom”.
State media and hardline officials have called the protesters “hypocrites, monarchists, thugs and agitators”.
Human rights groups said at least 250 protesters, including teenage girls, were killed and thousands arrested.
Authorities have accused the United States and other Western countries of inciting what they called “riots”, but the death toll has not been announced, but state media said about 30 members of the security forces were killed.
Written by Parisa Hafezi and Dominic Evans Edited by Michael Georgy, Nick Macfie and Alistair Bell
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