Iranian Sunnis are upset, they live in a dictatorship that is detached from the people’
Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday vowed revenge on those responsible for the fatal attack on a Shiite shrine the day prior, an assault claimed by Islamic State (IS) but considered by some as a possible “false flag” operation.
Iranian officials said they arrested a gunman who carried out the attack at the Shah Cheragh shrine in the city of Shiraz, killing 15 people and wounding dozens more.
State media blamed “takfiri terrorists” – a label Tehran uses for hardline Sunni Muslim militants like IS.
The incident came as nationwide protests continue to grip the Islamic Republic over the September 16 killing of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini while in the custody of Iran’s morality police.
“The Iranian leadership will likely try to use the attack to distract and deflect from the demonstrations, casting blame on both their internal and external enemies,” Henry Rome, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told i24NEWS.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday the assailants “will surely be punished” and called on Iranians to unite.
“We all have a duty to deal with the enemy and its traitorous or ignorant agents,” he said.
Islamic State, which once posed a security threat across the Middle East, has claimed previous violence in Iran, including deadly twin attacks in 2017. But since the peak of its influence and intimidation, IS has slipped back into the shadows.
“The group isn’t gone, but it’s not what it used to be,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran Program at the Middle East Institute.
Iran often accuses the West and its regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia of fomenting attacks, and this time was no different.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi accused the United States, Israel, IS, Iranian monarchists, a political-militant opposition group in Iran, and other Western governments of “being in cahoots on this one,” Vatanka added.
The timing is surely very fortunate for the regime in Tehran as it seeks to deflect and justify more crackdown https://t.co/kFj7iFygEP
— Alex Vatanka (@AlexVatanka) October 27, 2022
He noted to i24NEWS that Iranian leaders may have hoped that the shrine attack would draw attention away from the unrest, or that they even potentially committed the act with the intent of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on another party.
“The timing is very fortunate for Iranian authorities. It’s too early to say this is a false flag operation or a way to deflect from the unrest, but is it rather convenient for a ruthless regime.”
Wednesday’s killing of Shiite pilgrims came on the same day that Iranian security forces clashed with increasingly strident protesters marking 40 days since Amini’s death.
Demonstrators have called for Khamenei’s death and an end to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s regime, during protests in which rights groups say over 250 protestors have been killed – including 36 minors – and more than 13,800 people arrested.
“Nor can you say IS didn’t do it, or an angry Iranian Sunni. Maybe they saw that it was a good time to do it,” Vatanka continued, urging that Iranian Sunnis have “very real grievances about living in a chauvinistic system.”
“These Sunnis are upset, they live in a dictatorship that is detached from the people. But the regime just wants to blame the enemy,” he said.
“It has proven that it is incapable of looking at itself in the mirror. If the regime took a second to look at itself, it would realize that the root of the unrest isn’t some foreign plot.”