Twin attacks left 12 civilians dead and at least 46 wounded in Tehran on Wednesday. In the almost simultaneous attacks claimed by ISIS just weeks after Donald Trump completed his first tour to the region as President of the United States, all six known assailants were killed. Five individuals suspected of coordinating a third attack were arrested according to Hossein Sajedinia, Tehran’s police chief.
The attackers targeted two significant locations in a city largely constructed on a grid of socio-historical memory, the Iranian Parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Both prominent memorials of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that dethroned the monarch imposed by the United States in a 1953 coup against Iran's democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. The first of several international regime changes the U.S. imposed, particularly in Central and South America, in the following decades.
The synchronized terrorist attacks are unprecedented in Iran’s recent memory. While the eight-year Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), in which U.S. backed Saddam Hussein campaign to secure Iranian oil-fields following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, was one of the longest and bloodiest wars of the 20th Century (killing over one-million Iranians and Iraqis), Iran has not regularly been victim to outside violence, particularly in the capital, for the past three decades. Typically, Iranian’s enjoy a higher quality of stability when compared to regional neighbors. Even when faced with internal social frustration towards a conservative religio-political judiciary and crippling international sanctions, fear of terrorism and mass violence are low.
ISIS has been increasing their Persian language propaganda, in an attempt to agitate the Sunni-minority inside Iran. While Iranian intelligence claims that they have intervened in several ISIS related threats, this was the first attack that had been successfully carried out by Daesh in Iran. Deputy head of Iran’s National Security Council, Reza Seifollhai, confirmed that Wednesday’s attackers were Iranian. In claiming responsibility for the attack, ISIS released a video threatening more violence on the Shia majority nation. The Islamic State hopes to radicalize Sunni’s within Iran, like the ones funded and emboldened by the Bush administration upwards of four-hundred million dollars, to carry out more attacks. Sunni extremists in the Sistan-Baluchistan province killed 39 Shia worshippers during Ashura in 2010.
Iranian-backed militants are fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq. According to Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies“The weakening of ISIS was always going to open a race for territory, dominance and influence. The aggressive tone coming from Washington incentivizes Iran to speed up its operations,” adding that “The problem is that even what the U.S. sees as limited goals clash with more-ambitious Iranian ones.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was swift to blame Saudi Arabia for the terrorist attacks, seeing Wahabi Saudi Arabia as the largest supporter of both ISIS and Al-Qaeda. “This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of the one of the region’s reactionary governments [Saudi Arabia] … shows they are involved in this savage action,” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stated.
Two days before the attack, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the U.S.-Saudi relationship. In the June 4th speech marking the 28th anniversary of Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, which forebodingly took place at one of the locations of the recent attacks, Khamenei stated that "European leaders are now saying the Americans are not trustworthy. Imam Khomeini said the same thing more than 30 years ago," adding that "Even with a multi-billion dollar bribe to America, the Saudis cannot achieve their goals in the region,".
On Monday, emboldened by Trump’s earlier visit and support, Saudi Arabia led several Sunni nations in isolating Qatar, due to it’s good relationship with Iran particularly as the bordering nation’s share and cooperate on access to the world’s largest natural gas field. Qatar is now facing potential food shortages in the future, as it is heavily reliant on food imports, and is in talks with Iran and Turkey to provide food. The United States largest air-base in the region is in Qatar.
The United States was slow to join global leaders, including the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Bolivia, and Russia amongst others in condemning the terrorist attacks. The attacks in Tehran follow a series of ISIS-led attacks targeting civilians in Afghanistan, England, Iraq and the Philippines in just the past two weeks.