TEHRAN, Iran — 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.
Iranian 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 times to shield civilians in the melee, with one Guardsman in full dress uniform and sash carrying away a bloodied boy.
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.