Guards vow revenge –  Iran warns UAE over ‘offensive remarks’; official denies allegations

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waves during a ceremony at Mehrabad airport before leaving for the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday. – AFP

KUWAIT/TEHRAN: HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Saturday sent a cable to President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani to express sincere condolences on the deadly assault on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz. In his cable, HH the Amir condemned the terrorist attack which resulted in dozens of casualties. He prayed for the victims and wished speedy recovery and wellness for the injured. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables of condolences to the Iranian president.

Kuwait’s foreign ministry also condemned the deadly assault on Saturday. An official source at the ministry said Kuwait condemned the attack out of its of principled stance rejecting terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. The source extended Kuwait’s condolences to families of the victims and all Iranian people, wishing a speedy recovery to the wounded. National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem on Saturday sent a cable to his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani to offer condolences on the deadly attack. Ghanem condoled with families of the victims and denounced the terrorist act. He also prayed for the dead and wished the wounded speedy recovery.

Rouhani yesterday pointed blame at Arab separatists for the deadly attack and accused an unnamed US-backed Gulf state of supporting them. Tehran also summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain for allegedly hosting members of the group suspected of links to Saturday’s attack that killed 24 people, according to a revised death toll. Four militants attacked the parade commemorating the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, capital of the border province of Khuzestan.

Officials and an eyewitness said the gunmen were clad in Iranian military uniforms and had sprayed the crowd with gunfire using weapons they had stashed in a nearby park. The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the rare assault. But Iranian authorities see an Arab separatist movement, the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front (ADPF) or Al-Ahwazi, as the main suspect. “One of the countries in the south of the…Gulf took care of their financial, weaponry and political needs,” said President Rouhani. “All these little mercenary countries we see in this region are backed by America. It is the Americans who incite them.”

The United States condemned the attack, with its UN envoy saying it had happened because Rouhani has “oppressed his people for a long time”. “He needs to look at his own base to figure out where that’s coming from. I think the Iranian people have had enough,” said Nikki Haley. London-based opposition channel Iran International TV aired an interview Saturday with Yaqoub Hor Altostari, presented as a spokesman for ADPF, indirectly claiming responsibility for the attack and calling it “resistance against legitimate targets”.

But in a statement on its website, the group denied any involvement, accusing Iranian authorities of ordering the attack to distract from Tehran’s support for “militias in the region”. Iran summoned diplomats from Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain to complain about them “hosting some members of the terrorist group” and “double standards in fighting terrorism,” the foreign ministry said.

The British charge d’affaires “was told that it is not acceptable that the spokesman for the mercenary Al-Ahwazi group be allowed to claim responsibility for this terrorist act through a London-based TV network,” said ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi. Britain said its diplomat had extended the country’s condolences to Tehran and that Iranian officials were planning to lodge a formal complaint with the United Kingdom’s media watchdog, Ofcom.

Ghasemi also said Iran expected the Danish and Dutch governments to “hand over the perpetrators of this attack and anyone related to them to Iran for a fair trial”. Denmark said there would be consequences if any such links were established, while the Netherlands said it had heard the Iranian version of events and offered its condolences.

Iran also warned the United Arab Emirates over “offensive remarks” attributed to a UAE “political adviser” following the attack. Oman, Kuwait and Qatar issued condemnations of the attack, while Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain had yet to react yesterday. The Emirati charge d’affaires was summoned to the foreign ministry over the advisor’s “blatant support” for Saturday’s attack, said Ghasemi. “The summoning was over offensive remarks of a (UAE) political advisor,” he said in a statement. “The charge d’affaires was warned that blatant support of terrorist acts by those linked to Emirati authorities will have repercussions for the UAE government,” said Ghasemi. The ministry did not disclose the advisor’s name or the controversial comments.

A senior UAE official later denied Iranian allegations alluding to the involvement of the UAE in training gunmen that claimed the attack. The “formal incitement against the UAE from within Iran is unfortunate, and has escalated after the Ahvaz attack,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Anwar Gargash said in a tweet. “The UAE’s historical position against terrorism and violence is clear and Tehran’s allegations are baseless.”

State media gave a toll of 29 dead and 57 wounded in the attack, including women and children who were spectators at the parade. Their funerals will be held today, it said. Three attackers were also killed and the fourth died later of his injuries, the armed forces said. IS had claimed the attack via its propaganda mouthpiece Amaq, and that the attack was in response to Iranian involvement in conflicts across the region.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards vowed yesterday to exact “deadly and unforgettable” vengeance for the attack. “Considering (the Guards’) full knowledge about the centers of deployment of the criminal terrorists’ leaders…, they will face a deadly and unforgettable vengeance in the near future,” the Guards said in a statement carried by state media. Senior commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have said the Ahvaz attack was carried out by militants trained by Gulf states and Israel, and backed by America.

But it is unlikely the IRGC will strike any of these foes directly. The Guards could put on a show of strength by firing missiles at opposition groups operating in Iraq or Syria that may be linked to the militants who staged the attack. They are also likely to enforce a tight security policy in Khuzestan province, arresting any perceived domestic opponents including civil rights activists.

Three Arab activists told Reuters that security forces, especially the intelligence branch of the Revolutionary Guards, had detained more activists in Ahvaz. “There are many checkpoints on the streets of Ahvaz, and the security forces are searching cars,” said Hossein Bouazar, a member of Ahwazi Centre for Human Rights. “Many people are scared.” Reuters could not immediately verify this account. Iran has also been hit by sporadic street protests over economic hardship that have taken on anti-government overtones. – Agencies