Gunmen attack main Shiite shrine in Iran, killing 15

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Gunmen attacked a major Shiite shrine in Iran on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more. The attack came as protesters elsewhere in Iran marked a symbolic 40 days as the death of a woman in custody sparked the largest anti-government movement in more than a decade.

State television blamed the attack on “takfiris,” a term for Sunni Muslim extremists who have targeted the country’s Shiite majority in the past. The attack did not appear to be related to the demonstrations.

Two gunmen have been arrested and a third is at large following an attack on the Shah Cheragh mosque, Iran’s second-holiest site, the judiciary’s official website said. The state-run IRNA news agency reported the death toll, and state television said 40 people were injured.

An Iranian news site believed to be close to the Supreme National Security Council reported that the attackers were foreigners, without elaborating.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack on its Amaq news agency late Wednesday. It said an armed Islamic State militant stormed the shrine and opened fire on its visitors. It claims around 20 people were killed and dozens wounded.

Such attacks are rare in Iran, but last April an attacker stabbed to death two clerics at the Imam Reza shrine, the most revered Shiite site in the country’s northeastern city of Mashhad.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said whoever led and planned the attack would “receive a regrettable and decisive response”, without elaborating. IRNA quoted Raisi as saying, “There is absolutely no response to this evil.”

Earlier on Wednesday, thousands of protesters poured into the streets of the northwestern city to mark a watershed moment after the 40-day detention of Mahsa Amini, 22, whose tragedy sparked protests.

Like many other traditions, the death of Shia Islam is commemorated again after 40 days, usually with great grief. In Amini’s Kurdish hometown of Saqez, the birthplace of nationwide unrest now sweeping Iran, crowds snaked through local cemeteries, filling her grave.

“Death to the dictator!” Protesters cried, according to video footage corresponding to known features of the city and Aichi cemetery. Women tore off their headscarves or headscarves and waved them over their heads. Other videos showed a huge procession marching down the highway, through dusty fields, to Amini’s tomb. There were reports of road closures in the area.

State media reported that 10,000 protesters took part in a march to her cemetery.

The Kurdish human rights group Hengaw said security forces fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. The semi-official ISNA news agency said security forces fired bullets at demonstrators on the outskirts of Sax and repelled demonstrators who tried to attack the governor’s office. It said local internet access was cut off due to “security concerns”.

Earlier in the day, the governor of Kurdistan. Esmail Zarei Koosha insisted the traffic was normal, saying the situation was “completely stable”.

State media announced that schools and universities in Iran’s northwestern region would be closed, purportedly to curb the “spread of the flu”.

In the center of the capital, Tehran, the main part of the traditional grand bazaar was closed in solidarity with the protests. The crowd clapped and chanted “Freedom! Free! Free!” through the maze of markets.

“This year is the year of blood!” they also chanted. “(Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) will be overthrown!”

Riot police on motorcycles have been dispatched. A large group of men and women marched through the streets, set fire to trash cans, and shouted death to the dictator! As cars honked their horns in support. Police fired riot bullets at protesters in the streets and shot upward at journalists filming from windows and rooftops. Anti-government slogans also echoed across the campus of Tehran University.

Amini, detained on suspicion of violating the country’s strict dress code for women, remains a powerful symbol of the protests that have posed one of the most serious challenges to the Islamic Republic.

With the slogan #WomanLifeFreedom, demonstrations focus first on women’s rights and state-mandated headscarves or women’s headscarvesBut they quickly turned into calls for the expulsion of the Shiite cleric who have ruled Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Protests also inspire college students, unionsprisoner and Kurds and other minorities along the Iran-Iraq border.

Security forces fire live ammunition since protests erupted More than 200 people were killed by tear gas to disperse the demonstrations, according to human rights groups.

Numerous arrests were made, estimated to be in the thousands. Iranian judicial officials announced this week that they would try more than 600 people for their roles in the protests, including 315 in Tehran, 201 in neighboring Alborz province and the southwestern province of Khuzestan of 105 people.

Tehran prosecutor Ali Salehi told the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran news agency that four protesters have been charged with “fighting against God” charges that carry the death penalty in Iran.

Iranian officials blame foreign interference for protestsprovided no evidence.

Last week, Iran imposed sanctions on more than a dozen European officials, companies and institutions, including foreign Persian-language channels that widely covered the protests, accusing them of “supporting terrorism.” In addition to confiscation of their assets in Iran, the sanctions include bans on entry and visas for employees.

Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcaster where the Persian-language team has been blacklisted, denounced the move as “unacceptable” on Wednesday.

“I expect politicians in Germany and Europe to increase pressure on the regime,” DW director general Peter Limburg said.

Most of the remainder of the 10-story tower that collapsed in the southwestern city of Abadan earlier this year, killing at least 41 people, collapsed on Wednesday, state media reported. The state-run IRNA news agency reported that a woman was killed in a car parked near the site. The rest of the building collapsed last month.

The fatal collapse of the Metropolitan Building on May 23 served as a lightning rod for protests in Abadan, some 660 kilometers (410 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran. The disaster highlighted Iran’s poor construction practices, government corruption and neglect.

Video circulating online showed the remaining towers crashing into the street as a large amount of dust billowed.

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