At least twelve people have been killed in coordinated attacks against the Iranian parliament and the Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini. ISIS has claimed responsibility after releasing an apparent video of the assault. This attack, the first ISIS attack in Iran, comes at a time of increased diplomatic and political tension in the region.
Four attackers, dressed as women, charged through the main entrance of the parliament building in Tehran, killing at least twelve and wounding others. One of the attackers detonated a suicide vest in the building. Iranian news agencies reported the attack was over and the aggressors were dead, some five hours after initial reports.
Two men also attacked the mausoleum and shrine to Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Iranian republic. One attacker was shot dead, and the other utilized a suicide bomb. Security forces arrested a “terrorist team” in the planning stages of a third attack, according to the Intelligence Ministry. No further details on the supposed third attack have been provided.
The attacks highlight several ongoing conflicts within the region, primarily the Sunni/Shi’ite divide. Conflict between the two sects of Islam has evolved into the rivalry and proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia militia (especially in the power vacuum created by the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq), and the Yemeni Civil War between the government and Houthi rebels and the Yemeni government.
ISIS is indistinguishable in ideology from Wahhabism, which calls for a unified caliphate and strict adherence to an ultra-literal interpretation of the Quran. Wahhabis, especially of the ISIS variety, believe that those who do not practice their distinct flavor of Islam are heretics, infidels, and enemies of the faith.
This is why, to the confusion of many in the West, ISIS attacks its “fellow Muslims.” Simply put, to ISIS the people they attack are not true Muslims and must be punished for their heresy. This also extends to Shi’ite Islam and Iran in particular.
According to the U.S. State Department, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. Iran has either sponsored or provided support for Hezbollah, Hamas, The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Houthi Rebels in Yemen, and multiple Shia militias in Iraq. These primarily Shi’ite groups have put Iran in stark opposition with Saudi Arabia, who is Sunni. The Yemeni Civil War, in particular, arguably serves as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, who support forces on opposite sides of the conflict.
Iran has faced an insurgency of its own. Sunni militant groups have waged an insurgency against the Shi’ite Islamic Republic for nearly a decade, although the fighting has primarily been in the Sistan and Baluchestan provinces, which border Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The attacks are also expected to create a political dispute within Iran. Recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani will face increased opposition from his rivals, the hardline clerics, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. If the hardline clerics use this attack as an opportunity to gain more power, even isolating the supposedly “moderate” Rouhani (given Iran’s political climate, the loosest possible usage of the term moderate applies), we could see a shift in Iranian politics. Iran, who already sponsors terrorism, may up the ante if hard-liners take power. However, with ISIS positioning itself as everyone’s enemy, will the regional powers that be set ideological conflicts aside to band together to fight a global scourge?
Given the relationship between Iran and its neighbors, strategic analysts would do well to remember the difference between optimists and pessimists:
Optimists tend to see the best in people and the world around them, and pessimists tend to be right.