Amid wails and vows of revenge, thousands of Iranians on Monday attended a mass funeral service for victims of a weekend attack targeting a military parade that killed at least 25 people.
The dead from Saturday's attack in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, blamed on Arab separatists, ranged from a disabled war hero to a 4-year-old boy.
The assault killed members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, including conscripts, wounded more than 60 others and further ratcheted up tensions across the Persian Gulf ahead of this week's United Nations General Assembly.
The father of 4-year-old victim Mohammad Taha lay atop his son's flag-draped coffin sobbing, a public display of grief near the Sarallah Mosque in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's oil-rich province of Khuzestan.
Women in long black chadors held back tears while rhythmically striking their chests, a traditional way of showing grief. Mourners also played drums, cymbals and horns. ,
Of the 25 killed, 12 were from Ahvaz and the rest from elsewhere in Khuzestan.
As crowds flowed down Ahvaz's streets, cries of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” rose from the mourners. While a traditional chant in the years since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, they have taken on a new meaning as Iranian officials have blamed the U.S. and its regional allies for backing the separatists, who carried out the assault while disguised in military uniforms.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attack showed Iran has “a lot of enemies,” according to remarks posted on his website, in which he linked the attackers to the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“Definitely, we will harshly punish the operatives” behind the terrorist attack, he added.
Speaking at the funeral, the Revolutionary Guard's acting commander, Gen. Hossein Salami, vowed revenge against the perpetrators and what he called the “triangle” of Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States.
Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavai told the mourners that his agency had identified many suspects involved in the attack and “a majority of them were detained.”
“We will punish the terrorists, one by one,” he promised the crowd.
State TV reported late Monday that authorities have detained 22 suspects linked to the group behind the attack and confiscated ammunition and communication equipment. The semiofficial Fars News Agency reported that five militants took part in the assault, all of whom were killed. It said two of them were brothers.
Saturday's attack targeted one of many parades in Iran marking the start of the country's long 1980s war with Iraq, part of a commemoration known as Sacred Defense Week. The attacks in Ahvaz sent women and children fleeing alongside the soldiers once marching in the parade.
Arab separatists in the region claimed responsibility for the attack, and Iranian officials have blamed them for the assault. The separatists accuse Iran's Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Khuzestan province also has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.