Tehran, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire Saturday on an annual Iranian military parade in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 25 people and wounding over 60 in the deadliest terror attack to strike the country in nearly a decade.
Women and children scattered along with once-marching Revolutionary Guard soldiers as heavy gunfire rang out at the parade in Ahvaz, the chaos captured live on state television.
The region's Arab separatists, once only known for nighttime attacks on unguarded oil pipelines, claimed responsibility for the brazen assault.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed regional countries and their "U.S. masters" for funding and arming the separatists, issuing a stark warning as regional tensions remain high in the wake of the U.S. withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal.
"Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," Zarif wrote on Twitter.
The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down Ahvaz's Quds, or Jerusalem, Boulevard. It was one of many around the country marking the start of Iran's long 1980s war with Iraq, commemorations known as the "Sacred Defense Week."
Journalists and onlookers turned to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire. Iranian soldiers used their bodies at time to shield civilians in the melee, with one Guardsman in full dress uniform and sash carrying away a bloodied boy.
"Oh God! Go go go! Lie down! Lie down!" one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.
In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied, helped their comrades to ambulances. Video obtained by The Associated Press of the aftermath showed bodies of soldiers, some appearing lifeless, laying on the ground in pools of blood. One had a blanket covering him. A man screamed in grief.
The attack killed at least 25 people and wounded over 60, according to the state-run IRNA news agency. It said gunmen wore military uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting. At least eight of the dead served in the Revolutionary Guard, an elite paramilitary unit that answers only to Iran's supreme leader, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
"We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children," an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. "They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target."
State TV hours later reported that all four gunmen had been killed, with three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a hospital.
President Hassan Rouhani ordered Iran's Intelligence Ministry to immediately investigate the attack.
"The president stressed that the response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the slightest threat would be harsh, but those who support the terrorists should be accountable," IRNA reported.
Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the attack as exposing "the atrocity and viciousness of the enemies of the Iranian nation."
"Their crime is a continuation of the conspiracies by the U.S.-backed regimes in the region which have aimed at creating insecurity in our dear country," Khamenei said in a statement. "However, to their dismay, the Iranian nation will persist on the noble and prideful path they have taken and will — like before — overcome all animosities."
Initially, authorities described the assailants as "takfiri gunmen," a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's long war.
But later, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible. The separatists accuse Iran's Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority, though an Ahvazi Arab, Gen. Ali Shamkhani, serves as the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.
Khuzestan province also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.
Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding Arab separatists' activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the attack, though a Saudi-linked, Farsi-language satellite channel based in the United Kingdom immediately carried an interview with an Ahvazi activist claiming Saturday's attack.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to the U.K., called the channel's decision a "heinous act" in a post on Twitter and said his country would file a complaint with British authorities over the broadcast.
Yacoub Hor al-Tostari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahvaz, later told the AP that members of an umbrella group of Ahvazi activists his organization leads carried out the attack.
The attack undermined the Iranian government "on the day it wants to give a message to the world that it is powerful and in control," al-Tostari said. To bolster his claim, he gave details about one of the attackers that the AP could not immediately verify.
The Islamic State group also claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on its Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault. They also initially wrongly said the Ahvaz attack targeted Rouhani, who was in Tehran. The militants have made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in Iraq and Syria.
In Tehran, Rouhani watched a military parade that included ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and U.S. military bases in the Mideast. Rouhani said the U.S. withdraw from the nuclear deal was an attempt to get Iran to give up its military arsenal. United Nations inspectors say Iran is still complying with the deal, which saw it limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
"Iran neither put its defensive arms aside nor lessens its defensive capabilities," Rouhani said. "Iran will add to its defensive power day by day."
Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the armed forces, alleged without evidence that the four militants involved in Saturday's attack "were dependent to the intelligence services of the U.S. and the Mossad" of Israel.
"They have been trained and organized in two Persian Gulf countries," he said, without elaborating.
Saturday's attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
That assault shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after the tumult surrounding the revolution.
In the last decade, mass-casualty militant attacks have been incredibly rare. In 2009, more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province.
Jaipur, Sept 22 (UNB) - BJP president Amit Shah today said Bangladeshi migrants are "termites" who would soon be struck off the country's electoral rolls, reports NDTV.
Mr Shah, who was addressing a public rally at Gangapur in Rajasthan's Sawai Madhopur district ahead of the state assembly elections, went on to credit the BJP government with publishing the National Register of Citizens in Assam and identifying "nearly 40 lakh" illegal immigrants. "It will now pick out each and every infiltrator," he said.
The BJP president went on to describe the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan as an unshakeable "Angad ka Paon" that cannot be dislodged by the opposition. He was referring to a character in the Ramayana who possessed a foot that even demon king Ravana could not move.
The Congress cannot help the country because it has neither a leader nor a policy, Mr Shah said, adding that party president Rahul Gandhi should deliver an account of what his own family has done for the country in the last four generations before asking the BJP to list out its achievements over the last four years.
He claimed that Rajasthan had been a "sick state" before Ms Raje opened its doors to progress.
The BJP president later went on to attend another event in Kota. He had visited Rajasthan earlier this month to review preparations for the party's election campaign.
Nairobi, Sep 22 (AP/UNB) — A survivor has been found inside a capsized Tanzanian ferry two days after the disaster on Lake Victoria, an official said Saturday, while coffins arrived for at least 167 victims and counting.
An engineer was found near the engine of the upturned vessel, Mwanza regional commissioner John Mongella told reporters. The Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation reported he had shut himself into the engine room. His condition was not immediately clear.
Search efforts continued around the ferry's exposed underside as families of victims prepared to claim the dead. No one knows how many people were on board the ferry, which had a capacity of 101. Officials on Friday said at least 40 people had been rescued.
The government's Chief Secretary John Kijazi announced the rising death toll to reporters after President John Magufuli ordered the arrests of those responsible.
"This is a great disaster for our nation," Magufuli said, announcing four days of national mourning.
The badly overloaded ferry capsized in the final stretch before shore on Thursday afternoon as people returning from a busy market day shifted and prepared to disembark. Horrified fishermen and other witnesses have expressed fear that more than 200 could have died.
Pope Francis, the United Nations secretary-general, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of African leaders have expressed shock and sorrow.
The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.
Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where aging passenger ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and well beyond capacity.
In 1996, more than 800 people died when passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.
Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania's Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.
Kinshasa, Sep 22 (AP/UNB) — A Congolese woman who refused an Ebola vaccination and then disappeared has died of the virus near the heavily traveled border with Uganda, which is preparing to begin vaccinations as needed.
The confirmed Ebola death announced by local authorities highlights the challenges health workers are facing in a region of northeastern Congo that had never experienced an outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever before. Authorities have fought rumors and trained community members including traditional healers in efforts to calm and educate nervous residents.
The 32-year-old woman had assisted in the burials of other Ebola victims and health workers had followed her as a possible case, but she refused a vaccination and disappeared from the city of Beni, said the vice governor of Ituri Province, Pacifique Keta.
She died on Thursday at a hospital in Tshomia, on Lake Albert.
It is the closest a confirmed Ebola death in the current outbreak has been to Uganda, which has said it was making arrangements with the World Health Organization to vaccinate health workers and other high-risk populations as needed. Three thousand vaccine doses will be imported.
Congo's health ministry said that as of Friday there have been 116 confirmed cases, including 68 deaths, of Ebola in the outbreak that was declared on Aug. 1. More than 10,000 people have been vaccinated.
Ebola monitoring has been taking place at the border and Uganda is considered what WHO calls "very high risk."
"To date, health workers in Uganda have responded to over 100 Ebola alerts that have been found to be negative for the Ebola virus," WHO's country office there has said.
The U.N. health agency has not recommended travel restrictions.
Tehran, Sep 22 (AP/UNB) — Gunmen attacked an annual Iranian military parade Saturday in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 24 people and wounding 53 others, local media reported.
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. However, Iran faced a bloody assault last year from the Islamic State group and Arab separatists in the region have attacked oil pipelines there in the past.
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their "U.S. masters," further raising regional tensions as Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.
"Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," he wrote on Twitter.
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.
"Security forces have restored security in the area but the parade has totally been disrupted," a reporter on the scene for Iranian state television said by phone in a live broadcast. "People have been killed but we have no figures yet."
Zarif on Twitter said that the gunmen were "terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime." He did not immediately elaborate. However, Arab separatist groups in the region have launched attacks on oil pipelines there in the past and Iran. 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.
Reports of how the attack unfolded remained unclear immediately afterward. The state TV reporter said the gunfire came from a park behind a riser. The semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to the Guard, said two gunmen on a motorcycle wearing khaki uniforms carried out the attack.
The state-run IRNA news agency said the attack killed 24 people and wounded 53, citing "knowledgeable sources" without elaborating. It said gunmen were dressed in Guard uniforms and targeted a riser where military and police commanders were sitting.
Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told IRNA that two gunmen were killed and other two were arrested.
Who carried out the assault also remained in question. State television immediately described the assailants as "takfiri gunmen," a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against IS in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country's long war.
Among those involved are members of the Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard also has vast holdings in Iran's economy.
Meanwhile, Guard spokesman Gen. Ramazan Sharif told ISNA that an Arab separatist group carried out the attack, without elaborating. However, those groups in the past previously have only attacked unguarded oil pipelines at night.
Saturday's attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran. At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded.
Khomeini led the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah to become Iran's first supreme leader until his death in 1989. The assault shocked Tehran, which largely has avoided militant attacks in the decades after the tumult surrounding the Islamic Revolution.