Iran’s Revolutionary Guards killed six militants on Wednesday, June 7, following coordinated attacks on the Iranian parliament and Imam Khomeini’s tomb in Tehran that left 13 dead and dozens more injured. The Islamic State claimed the attacks; the Revolutionary Guards put the blame on Saudi Arabia and America, while Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei downplayed the incident: “These fireworks have no effect on Iran.” As Tehran swore revenge, a world increasingly being targeted by the militant group, including Pakistan, expressed its sympathy.
The bombers were all Sunni Iranians, a community that has felt stigmatization from the ethnic-Iranian Shia majority. The Baloch in the east and Khuzestani Arabs in the west—rarely at ease with the Shia state—form the bulk of the Sunni population of Iran. Iranian Arabs come from the Khuzestan, one of 31 provinces subject to population shifts to lessen their Arab Sunni identity. The suicide-bombers were likely selected from the Khuzestani rebels.
Iran has been secure against terrorist attacks even as its immediate neighbors have been dealing with the aftermath of America’s invasion of Afghanistan since 2001. Its Afghan policy didn’t dovetail with that of Pakistan and gave rise to misunderstandings that still persist. Iran, however, prevented Pakistan-based foreign Sunni terrorists from staging attacks on its territory by turning a blind eye to their passage through its territory and reportedly even providing them safe haven. This gibes with Tehran’s policy of facilitating the Sunni terrorist war against America in Iraq.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian jihadist, traveled to Afghanistan during the 1980s to join the mujahideen fighting against Soviet troops. After returning home, he tried to bomb a hotel in Amman in 2000, failing which he fled to Pakistan. From Pakistan, he fled back to Afghanistan and eventually made his way to Iraq through Iran with Tehran’s facilitation. When Zarqawi started killing Shia Muslims in Iraq, Al Qaeda broke with him with its founder Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, whose own wives were sheltering in Iran, shunning him, as shown in the record of his correspondence found in Abbottabad. In July last year, the U.S. Treasury Department added three senior Al Qaeda members to the U.S. government’s list of designated terrorists. All three of them were also “located in Iran.”