Twin attacks rocked Tehran on June 7 as the Islamic State
evidently made a rare foray into Iran. The incidents began around 10:30 a.m. local time, when what appeared to be four gunmen, reportedly dressed as women, opened fire inside Iran's parliament building, killing at least seven people in the initial assault. A small number of family members of Iranian lawmakers were believed to have been taken hostage, and one assailant later reportedly detonated a suicide vest in the upper floors of the building. Around 3:45 p.m., Iranian state media reported that all of the parliament attackers had been killed.
Shortly after the parliament standoff began, at least three assailants, possibly including one woman, armed with automatic weapons opened fire on crowds visiting the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini — the burial place of several notable Iranian political figures, including Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his family — located on the southern outskirts of Tehran. At least one attacker reportedly detonated a suicide vest. Altogether, according to state media, at least 12 people were killed in the two attacks and another 39 were wounded. Iranian intelligence claims to have arrested a militant cell purportedly planning a third attack.
Notably, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks. While the attacks were still ongoing, the jihadist group's Amaq news agency posted pictures and videos it claimed were live footage. Statements made by the Arabic-speaking attackers in the videos appear to confirm the Islamic State’s claims. And the speed with which the videos were posted suggests the militants had close ties with the core Islamic State leadership, unlike most grassroots terrorists.
Terrorist attacks in Tehran itself have not been common in recent years, though Iran is no stranger to terrorism in peripheral regions such as Iranian Kurdistan
and Ahvaz and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces, and it has long grappled with threats posed by a number of domestic militant organizations. The last major terrorist incident in Tehran was carried out in 2001 by an opposition and dissident group known as Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK), which Washington removed from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations
in 2012. (A 2008 blast that killed at least 15 people in a Tehran suburb has never been fully explained, though speculation has centered on an Israeli operation targeting a convoy transporting weapons to Hezbollah.)
The Islamic State, by comparison, until now has not posed a significant threat to Iran. However, there have been indications that Iran is increasingly moving into the Islamic State’s crosshairs. After all, Tehran has actively supported the fight against the Islamic State, including in the Iraqi border region around Suleimaniyah and in its support for anti-Islamic State militias in Iraq and Syria. Last September, Iranian security forces reportedly killed the designated emir of the Islamic State in Iran. A month later, Iran arrested 11 people suspected of procuring weapons and explosives for the Islamic State. In March, the Islamic State’s Diyala media wing released a video in Farsi calling on Iranian Sunnis to rise up against the government. The video also showed armed men using pictures of the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force, Qassem Soleimani, for target practice.
The targets of the June 7 attacks are highly symbolic. Khomeini’s shrine is an indelible symbol of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, which overturned Iran’s political system. The attack took place the day after the 28th anniversary of his burial — what could have been expected to be a busy time at the shrine. The parliament building, meanwhile, is a symbol of the modern Iranian state and the rule of President Hassan Rouhani’s recently re-elected government
. The first major terrorist attack in 16 years in Tehran will embolden Iran’s hard-line groups to take an even more hawkish stance toward Iraq and Syria
— especially if the attack was indeed carried out by the Islamic State or even a Kurdish group like the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan. With Tehran suspicious of potential Saudi support for such groups, ties with Riyadh are likely to be further strained at a time when the Saudis have already been trying to amp up pressure on Iran
. Domestically, this will also be used as ammunition against Rouhani to the benefit of the IRGC
, though it and other agencies outside Iran’s executive branch already dominate domestic security policies.