Iran on Tuesday identified the perpetrators of a deadly attack on a military parade as “jihadist separatists”, announcing a series of arrests and appearing to tie the Islamic State group to the bloodshed.
The intelligence ministry published photos of the five men it said carried out the assault Saturday in the southwestern city of Ahvaz that killed 24 people including civilians.
“The five members of a terrorist squad affiliated to jihadist separatist groups supported by Arab reactionary countries were identified,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The terrorists’ hideout was found and 22 people involved (in the attack) were arrested,” it said, adding that explosives were seized along with military and communications equipment.
The attack targeted a parade in Khuzestan province commemorating the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The region, which has a large ethnic Arab community, was a major battleground of the conflict and saw ethnic unrest in 2005 and 2011.
Iranian officials initially blamed Arab separatists, who they claimed were behind previous unrest, for the latest attack, saying they were backed by Gulf Arab allies of the United States.
This version was bolstered when a movement called “Ahwaz National Resistance”, an Arab separatist group, claimed responsibility shortly after the assault.
But the Islamic State group (IS) was also quick to claim responsibility and later published a video of men it said were the attackers.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Monday linked the attackers to Iraq and Syria, where IS once had major strongholds.
“This cowardly act was the work of those very individuals who are rescued by the Americans whenever they are in trouble in Iraq and Syria and who are funded by the Saudis and the (United) Arab Emirates,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by his official website.
– IS screenshot –
The photographs of the alleged attackers released by the authorities Tuesday showed the bodies of four men named as Ayyad Mansouri, Fouad Mansouri, Ahmad Mansouri and Javad Saari.
The picture published by the intelligence ministry of an alleged fifth member of the group, Hassan Darvishi, was a screenshot taken from the video put out by IS.
According to local media two of the Mansouris are brothers and the third is their cousin.
Abdullah Ganji, the managing director of the ultra-conservative Javan daily, wrote on Twitter that a third Mansouri brother “was killed in a suicide bombing in Syria”.
There has been no known presence of Iranian Arab separatist groups in Syria.
Ganji also wrote in an article that the nature of the attack in Ahvaz, in which the assailants died, far more resembled IS than the “bombing or hit and run operations” typical of Arab separatist groups.
“To kill until you are killed, without trying to leave the scene is the method of (IS),” he said, pointing to parallels with a high-profile attack in Iran last year.
On June 7, 2017 in Tehran, 17 people were killed and dozens wounded in simultaneous attacks on the parliament and on the tomb of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini — the first inside Iran claimed by IS.
Ganji, however, appeared to hedge his analysis and said that if it was still confirmed that the Arab separatists committed the attack then it could mean they are in league with IS.
Iranian authorities have blamed the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates of being behind the Ahvaz attack, which Tehran has promised to “rigorously punish”.