Iranian leaders are trying to link the protests to a shooting attack that killed 15 people
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s supreme leader and its president on Thursday attempted to link nationwide protests rocking the country to a shooting attack claimed by Islamic State on a famous mosque. which killed 15 people.
Comments by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi come as Iran’s theocracy has been unable to contain protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after he was detained by police customs of the country.
The protests, the most serious unrest to grip Iran since the Green Movement protests of 2009, have grown to encompass anger at Iran’s cratered economy as well as its theocracy. More than 200 people have been killed in a crackdown in Iran, and thousands more have been arrested by police, activists say.
On Wednesday, a gunman opened fire on worshipers at Shah Cheragh Mosque in Shiraz, Iran’s second holiest site. State media said at least 15 people were killed in the assault, which authorities initially attributed to multiple gunmen.
Footage released Thursday by authorities shows the gunman walking near the mosque with a large backpack, then later entering the mosque with a Kalashnikov-style assault rifle. The barefoot worshipers inside attempt to flee as the man opens fire, then chases those behind whatever they can find. Blood could be seen on the floor of the mosque.
Riot police later captured the man, whom authorities have yet to identify.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on its Amaq news agency on Wednesday evening. He said an armed IS militant stormed the shrine and opened fire on its visitors.
In a speech on Thursday, Raisi described the ongoing protests as « riots » that enabled the shooting in Shiraz. However, there is no evidence linking extremist groups to the widespread and largely peaceful protests that have been repeatedly targeted by a brutal crackdown by security forces in the country.
“The enemy wants the riots to pave the way for terrorist attacks. The enemy is always the enemy,” argued Raisi. « They go to a holy shrine of a son of the Prophet, our third most important shrine, His Majesty Shah Cheragh, and open fire on innocent worshippers. »
For his part, Khamenei, 83, blamed the attack on a « plot by enemies ».
« We all have a duty to strike a blow against the warmongering enemy and his treacherous and senseless cohorts, » Khamenei was quoted as saying. « All of our people, from security organs to the judiciary and activists in the media field, must be united against the wave that disregards and disrespects people’s lives, their safety and their sacred things. »
The Associated Press