| 23.09,18. 05:48 AM |
Gunmen attack Iranian military parade in Ahvas, killing dozens
Photo: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani joined the military celebrations at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini outside Tehran. (AP: Ebrahim Noroozi)
Gunmen disguised as soldiers have attacked an annual Iranian military parade, killing at least 24 people and wounding 53 in the bloodiest assault to strike the country in recent years.
Of those killed, at least eight are believed to be members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard.
Women and children who had come to watch the parade were also caught up in the attack, which happened in the country's oil-rich southwest on Saturday (local time).
State-run news agency IRNA reported gunmen were dressed in guard uniforms and targeted a platform where military and police commanders were sitting.
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 platform.
'Iran will respond swiftly and decisively'
Iranian armed forces members march in a military parade
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their "US masters", calling the gunmen "terrorists recruited, trained armed and paid" by foreign powers.
On Twitter, Mr Zarif warned that: "Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defence of Iranian lives".
It coincided with remarks by Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, who said that US president Donald Trump will fail in his confrontation with Iran, and vowed Tehran will not abandon its missiles.
The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guardsmen marched down 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.
Images captured by state television showed journalists and onlookers turn to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire.
"Oh God! Go go go! Lie down! Lie down!" one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.
An unnamed wounded soldier told state TV the gunmen aimlessly shot at the crowd and did not appear to have a specific target.
"We suddenly realised that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children," he said.
Identity of gunmen in question
Who carried out the assault 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.
But in the hours following the attack, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible.
The separatists, however, previously only conducted pipeline bombings at night or hit-and-run attacks.
The Islamic State group later claimed responsibility in a message on its Amaaq news agency, but provided no evidence it carried out the assault.
The militants have made a string of false claims in the wake of major defeats in Iraq and Syria.
In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani watched a military parade that included ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and US military bases in the Mideast.
Mr Rouhani said the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal was an attempt to get Iran to give up its military arsenal.
"Iran neither put its defensive arms aside nor lessens its defensive capabilities," Mr Rouhani said.
"Iran will add to its defensive power day by day."
Iran's Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Guard also has vast holdings in Iran's economy.