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 in an attack claimed by Islamic State that threatened to inflame tensions amid widespread anti-government protests.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attackers would surely be punished and called on Iranians to unite. “We all have a duty to deal with the enemy and its traitors or ignorant agents,” he said in a statement read on state television a day after the attack killed 15 people.
Khamenei’s call for unity appears to be aimed mostly at government loyalists, not protesters whose six-week-old movement is seen by authorities as a threat to national security.
After the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman in police custody, Iran’s clerical authorities faced nationwide protests.
Iranians called for Khamenei’s death and the end of the Islamic Republic during the protests, which drew scores of Iranians to the streets and became the boldest challenge to the clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution.
The gunman who attacked the Shah Cherag shrine in the city of Shiraz has been arrested, authorities said. State media blamed the “Takfiri terrorists” label used by mainly Shiite Iran for hardline Sunni Muslim extremists such as Islamic State.
A senior official said the suspected assailant was shot by the police and is in critical condition.
“We haven’t been able to question him yet,” deputy provincial governor Esmail Mohebibipour was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
CCTV footage broadcast on state TV on Thursday showed the assailant entering the shrine after hiding a gun in a bag and shooting worshipers as they tried to flee and hide in the aisles.
Islamic State, once a security threat across the Middle East, has previously claimed violence in Iran, including deadly twin attacks in 2017 that targeted the parliament and the tomb of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
While ruling over millions in the Middle East and terrorizing the world with deadly bombings and shootings, the Islamic State has slipped from the height of its power back into the shadows.
Iran often accuses the West and regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia of encouraging the attacks. Saudi Arabia denies this and Israel refuses to comment on moves against the Islamic Republic.
The Shia pilgrims were killed on Wednesday, the same day Iranian security forces clashed with violent protesters, 40 days after Amini’s death.
Iranian leaders may have hoped the shrine attack would divert attention from the unrest, but there is no sign of that happening.
Protesters broke windows of banks, tax offices and other public buildings in the northwestern city of Mahabad, angered by the protester’s death, official news agency IRNA said.
Kurdish human rights group Henqaw said security forces killed at least five people during protests on Thursday in the northwest of the country, where many Kurds live. Three were killed in Mahabad city and two in Bane.
State television confirmed the deaths of three people in Mahabad, after protesters tried to occupy government and security facilities. It showed footage of a burning building surrounded by demonstrators.
State media said two Basij soldiers were killed in the attack in the northern city of Amol, the epicenter of protests. A member of the elite Revolutionary Guard was killed by “rebels” with a hand grenade in Tehran province, the Tasnim news agency said.
Iranian human rights groups said there were unconfirmed reports that some of Amini’s family were under house arrest. Reuters was unable to verify these reports. Reuters tried to reach Ammini’s father and brother.
Authorities, accused by the United States and other Western countries of fomenting what they call a “rebellion,” have not yet released a death toll, but state media said about 30 members of the security forces were killed.
Activist news agency Hrana said in a posting that 252 protesters, including 36 minors, had been killed in the riots. It said more than 13,800 people were arrested during protests in 122 cities and towns and around 109 universities.
Dubai Newsroom reporting; By Michael Giorgi and Dominic Evans; Editing Clarence Fernandez, Nick McPhee, Jonathan Otis, Daniel Wallis
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