Gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked an annual Iranian military parade Saturday in the country's oil-rich southwest, killing at least 24 people and wounding 53 in the bloodiest assault to strike the country in recent years. The attack in Ahvaz saw gunfire sprayed into a crowd of marching Revolutionary Guardsmen, bystanders, and government officials watching from a nearby riser, per the AP. Suspicion immediately fell on the region's Arab separatists, who previously only attacked unguarded oil pipelines under the cover of darkness. Iran 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. "Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives," Zarif wrote on Twitter.
Images captured by state TV showed journalists and onlookers turn to look as the first shots rang out, then rows of marchers breaking as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire. The state-run IRNA news agency says the attack killed 24 people and wounded 53; the gunmen were said to have worn Guard uniforms. Details after were murky: Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati told IRNA that two gunmen were killed and two others arrested, while state TV later reported all four gunmen were dead, with three dying during the attack and one later succumbing to his wounds at a hospital. Who carried out the assault also remains in question. State TV immediately described the assailants as "takfiri gunmen," a term previously used to describe ISIS, but in the hours following the attack, state media and government officials seemed to agree Arab separatists in the region were responsible. ISIS later claimed responsibility but provided no evidence it carried out the assault.