In a rare attack in the Iranian capital city of Tehran, suicide bombers and gunmen carried out a pair of high-profile attacks, hitting the Iranian parliament and also the mausoleum of the nation’s founder, Ruhollah Khomeini. At least 12 people were killed in the attacks and dozens wounded.
And while that’s not a huge death toll compared to some terrorist attacks elsewhere, the nature of the targets has far-reaching consequences in Iran, and likely across the region, with some of the most sacred sites in the capital being hit, and ISIS quickly taking credit, which adds a huge sectarian dimension to the attacks. Iranian officials say that the attackers were from Iran, and had joined ISIS.
The sectarian nature of the attacks is already being exploited by hardline conservatives in Iran, with the Revolutionary Guard blaming Saudi Arabia, and a lot of conservative figures are piling on to this allegation, claiming Saudi Arabia and by extension the Trump Administration were to blame.
The Revolutionary Guard’s statement likely was intended more as a shot at Saudi Arabia for its general support of Islamist terror than a literal accusation of directly carrying out the attack. Still, President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, during which he loudly pushed for general hostility toward Iran, can’t help but be noted for being followed so quickly by virtually unheard of attacks in the heart of Tehran. Big attacks in Tehran also dramatically undercut President Trump’s attempts to present Iran as the main cause of terrorism, as opposed to one of many nations fighting against it.
Top officials within the Iranian government were very measured in their response, however, with current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saying the attack was “weak” and would have no impact on Iran, while President Hassan Rouhani said it would only serve to strengthen the nation’s unity. Indeed,, parliament never even fully shut down during the attack, with parliamentary sessions continuing in parts of the complex where the gunmen weren’t believed to be throughout.
That reaction stands in stark contrast with the reaction of other nations when terror attacks hit their capital city, which virtually hut the entire city down for days on end, with large, new security efforts being implemented largely for show. Tehran appears determined to react as little as possible to the incident, and people are mostly going about their day.
Which isn’t to say that the attacks won’t have a lot of major consequences, as the targeting of Iran, and particularly of Khomeini’s mausoleum are certain to enrage a large amount of the Shi’ite world even further against ISIS and against Saudi Arabia, which is the most visible symbol of Sunni Islamism.
A rise in sectarian tensions like this is liable to provoke would be bad at any time, but particularly a grave problem right now, because the ISIS war, the Saudi invasion of Yemen, and other events already have such tensions very high, and this powderkeg may quickly explode.