DUBAI, Oct 27 (Reuters) – Iran’s top leader on Thursday vowed to stand up to those threatening the country’s security following the massacre of Shia pilgrims, an attack alleged by Islamic State that threatens to kill the igniting tensions amid widespread anti-government protests.
In a statement read on state television, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attackers would “certainly be punished” and called on the Iranians to unite.
“We all have a duty to deal with the enemy and their treacherous or ignorant agents,” Khamenei said a day after the attack killed 15 people.
Khamenei’s call for unity appeared to be aimed primarily at government loyalists rather than protesters, whose nearly six-week-old movement is viewed by authorities as a threat to national security.
Iran’s spiritual rulers have faced nationwide protests since the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, in police custody on September 16.
Iranians have demanded the death of Khamenei and an end to the Islamic Republic during protests that have become one of the boldest challenges to clerical leadership since the 1979 revolution, drawing many Iranians into the streets.
Iranian officials said they arrested a gunman who carried out the attack on Shah Cheragh’s shrine in the city of Shiraz. State media accused “takfiri terrorists” – a label Tehran uses for hardline Sunni Muslim militants like Islamic State.
A senior official said the suspected attacker is in critical condition after being shot dead by police.
“The shrine terrorist is in critical condition… and we have not yet been able to interrogate him,” said provincial deputy governor Easmail Mohebipour, quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
CCTV footage aired on state television on Thursday showed the attacker entering the shrine after hiding an assault rifle in a pocket and firing as worshipers attempted to flee and hide in corridors.
The Islamic State, which once posed a security threat in the Middle East, has claimed previous violence in Iran, including deadly twin attacks in 2017 targeting Parliament and the tomb of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Since the peak of its power, when it ruled millions of people in the Middle East and spread fear around the world with deadly bombings and shootings, the Islamic State has once again slipped into the shadows.
Iran has repeatedly accused the West and its regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia of fomenting attacks. Saudi Arabia denies this and Israel usually refuses to comment on its moves against the Islamic Republic.
Wednesday’s killing of Shia pilgrims came on the same day Iranian security forces clashed with increasingly vocal protesters, committed 40 days after Amini’s death.
Iranian human rights groups said there were unconfirmed reports that some members of Amini’s family were under house arrest. Reuters could not verify these reports. Reuters tried to reach Amini’s father and brother.
Authorities, which have accused the United States and other Western countries of fomenting what they call “riots,” are yet to give the death toll, but state media said about 30 members of the security forces were killed.
The activist news agency HRANA said in a post that at least 252 demonstrators were killed in the riots, including 36 minors.
By Wednesday, 30 members of the security forces had been killed and more than 13,800 people arrested during protests in 122 cities and around 109 universities.
Reporting by the Dubai newsroom; writing by Michael Georgy; Edited by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie
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