by Associated Press, and Linda Givetash | NBCNEWS.com
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their “U.S. masters.”
TEHRAN, Iran — Gunmen attacked an annual Iranian military parade on Saturday in the country’s oil-rich southwest, killing at least 24 people and injuring more than 53 others according to local media reports.
The state-run IRNA news agency cited “knowledgeable sources” without elaborating. It said gunmen were dressed in Guard uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting.
At least half of those killed were members of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard dead, local media reported.
Many of the wounded were in critical condition, according to the deputy governor of the Khuzestan province in which the attack occurred.
Foreign Minister Javad Zarif vowed Iran would “respond swiftly and decisively” to the attack, which he said claimed the lives of children and journalists.
“Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable,” he said on Twitter, further raising regional tensions as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the assault in Ahvaz, which saw gunfire spray into a crowd of marching Guardsmen, bystanders and government officials watching from a nearby riser.
State television aired footage of the aftermath of the assault on Ahvaz’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard, which like many other places around the country saw an annual parade marking the start of Iran’s long 1980s war with Iraq. The images included paramedics trying to help one person in military fatigues as other armed security personnel shouted at each other. The semi-official ISNA news agency published photographs of the attack’s aftermath, with bloodied troops in dress uniforms helping each other walk away.
A local news agency in Khuzestan province, of which Ahvaz is the capital, aired grainy mobile phone footage showing parade goers fleeing as soldiers lay flat on the ground. Gunfire rang out in the background.
Zarif said on Twitter that the gunmen were “terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime.” He did not immediately elaborate.
Reports of how the attack unfolded remained unclear immediately afterward.
Who carried out the assault also remained in question. Guard spokesman Gen. Ramazan Sharif told ISNA that an Arab separatist group carried out the attack, without elaborating.
Arab separatist groups in the region have launched attacks on oil pipelines there in the past. The separatists also accuse Iran’s Shiite theocracy of discriminating against its Sunni Arab citizens. Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding their activity.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences after the attack, saying Moscow was ready to boost joint efforts in the fight against terrorism, RIA news quoted the Kremlin as saying.
Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that Iran will not cave to pressure from the United States. In a televised speech marking the start of the 1980 Iran-Iraq war, Rouhani said Trump would fail in his confrontation with Iran just like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.
“Iran will not abandon its defensive weapons … including its missiles that make America so angry,” Rouhani said.