Update: Islamic State group claims attack on Iran’s parliament and the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini
Update: People including a guard have been killed and 4 people have been taken hostage after a shooting in the country’s parliament
Update: One attacker of Iran Parliament arrested, reports state news agency IRNA.
Tehran: Multiple attacks unfolding in the heart of Tehran took Iran by shock on Wednesday noon, pushing the larger Middle East — already been a theatre of a diplomatic stand-off between Qatar and Saudi Arabia — to an edge.
A hostage crisis seemed to be developing in Iran’s Parliament even as reports come in of a second attack at the revered Imam Khomeini shrine in the capital city. One attacker has reportedly blown himself up in the mausoleum, although this could not be independently verified. The Khomeini Mausoleum hosts the tombs of the father of the Islamic Revolution and his family, besides his compatriots like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Iran’s Press TV said three attackers stormed into the Parliament building known as Majlis and that there were multiple injuries. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted an MP Ali Jafarzadeh Imenabadi as saying that the gunmen carried two Kalashnikov and one colt firearms. At the filing of this report, there was no official confirmation on who was behind the attacks.
Iran has been at the centre of a larger Middle East crisis that has seen powerful Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and UAE teamed up against the Shia state. Iran has been accused of trying to build up a larger Shia arc in the region by supporting embattled Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and the Lebanon-based pro-Palestinian militant organization Hezbollah. Its Arab neighbours and Turkey find themselves at the other end of the Syrian war with support extended to a spectrum of anti-Assad forces ranging from the secular Kurdish forces to the Islamist Free Syrian Army to Al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front.
Iran has also been at the cross-hairs of the new US administration led by Donald Trump that seems to have reverted to the George Bush policy of treating the Islamic Republic as one among the “Axis of Evil”.
The Arab world’s biggest powers had cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran, and reopening a festering wound two weeks after Trump’s demand for Muslim states to fight terrorism.
Iran, long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move, blamed Trump’s visit last month to Riyadh and called for the sides to overcome their differences. “What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance,” tweeted Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, referring to Trump’s joining in a traditional dance with the Saudi king at the meeting.
The hawkish tone on Tehran and on terrorism that Trump brought in his visit to Muslim leaders in Riyadh is seen as having laid the groundwork for the diplomatic crisis.
Earlier, the Trump administration had said it was launching an inter-agency review of whether the lifting of sanctions against Iran was in the US’ national security interests while acknowledging that Tehran was complying with a deal to rein in its nuclear program.
In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran remained compliant with the 2015 deal, but said there were concerns about its role as a state sponsor of terrorism.
Under the deal, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It is the first such notification under U.S. President Donald Trump.