Gunmen killed at least 25 people and wounded 60 others on Saturday in an attack on a military parade in Iran, state media reported, in a restive province that is home to most of the country’s Arab minority.
The Islamic Republic News Agency reported the casualty figures at the parade in Ahvaz, in southwestern Iran, and said that, with many of the wounded in critical condition, the death toll was expected to rise.
The dead and injured were a mix of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps soldiers and civilian onlookers, multiple semiofficial news agencies reported. They said that there were four gunmen, wearing military uniforms, and that security forces had killed two and captured the other two.
The reports quoted some officials as blaming the assault on Arab separatists. State television described the attackers as “takfiri,” a term often used to describe Islamic State fighters. Both the Islamic State and a separatist group, Al Ahwaz, made statements taking responsibility for the shootings.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote on Twitter that “terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime” were responsible, and that “Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable.”
An Iranian general told the Islamic Republic News Agency that the gunmen had been trained by two Persian Gulf countries, but he did not name them.
Videos and photographs posted online reportedly showed the attack and its aftermath — civilians and soldiers dropping to the pavement, shouting and running for cover as gunfire crackled in the background, and later carrying away wounded and bleeding survivors, including children.
Some reports said the gunmen had tried and failed to reach the reviewing stand set up on a wide boulevard, where military commanders were watching the parade pass by.
Iran, a majority Shia Muslim country run by Shia clerics, has endured numerous attacks by Sunni Muslim militant or ethnic minority groups, though few as deadly as the one on Saturday.
The government often accuses neighboring Sunni-dominated states — and sometimes the United States and Israel — of being behind terrorism on its soil. The civil war in Yemen has become a proxy war between Iran, supporting primarily Shia forces, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, backing a Sunni-dominated government.
Last year, two simultaneous attacks in Tehran killed 17 people and wounded about 50 others. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for those assaults, which the government confirmed.
Another Sunni militant group carried out suicide bombings in 2010 at a mosque in Zahedan, in southeastern Iran, killing 27 people and wounding hundreds.
Ahvaz, a city of more than a million people and the capital of Khuzestan Province, has been a center of antigovernment protest recently, plagued by drought, dust storms, unemployment and air pollution. The province, which borders Iraq to the west and the Persian Gulf to the south, dominates Iranian oil production, but residents have complained that not enough of the revenue is invested there.
Arab separatist groups have operated sporadically in the region for years, and previous attacks have been attributed to them.
The parade was one of several held around the country to mark the start of Sacred Defense Week, which commemorates Iran’s 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Follow Richard Pérez-Peña on Twitter: @perezpena.
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