A pair of attacks in Iran’s capital Tehran this morning left 12 people dead and dozens more injured. The attacks on the parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, are the worst attacks in Tehran in decades. The attackers opened fire and took a number of hostages before all four attackers were killed by security forces. ISIS is claiming responsibility. We are joined by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Iran. At least 12 people have been killed, dozens more injured, in two separate attacks in Tehran this morning. The attacks on the Iranian parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, are the worst attacks in Tehran in decades. The attackers opened fire and took a number of hostages before all four attackers were killed by security forces, at least one attacker carried out. ISIS is claiming responsibility.
For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.
Trita, can you talk about the significance of these attacks? We’re just learning about what’s happened in Tehran.
TRITA PARSI: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the significance of these attacks?
TRITA PARSI: Sorry, Amy, I couldn’t hear the last part. Could you repeat the question?
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of these attacks that we are just learning about in Tehran?
TRITA PARSI: Yes, I mean, this is quite unusual. Tehran has not been struck by any terror attacks for a very long time. And, in fact, Iran, as a whole, has been quite spared from this, mainly because of a very, very tight security apparatus, but also because so much of the ISIS– and al-Qaeda-associated terrorist groups have a great difficulty penetrating Iran and, as a result, have not managed to stage anything of this kind up until now. The fact that they’ve been targeting the parliament as well as the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini, of course, carries tremendous symbolism. And this is all happening right now in which we’re seeing a very, very tense situation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. We saw last month the crown prince of Saudi Arabia threatening, saying that Saudi Arabia will take the fight to Iran and into Iran. Yesterday, the Saudi foreign minister said that Iran needs to be punished. Whether Saudi is connected to this or behind this, nevertheless, the sentiments in Iran are very much right now such that they are seeing a link to what the Saudis are doing in the region.
AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] claimed responsibility, Trita. What does this mean?
TRITA PARSI: Sorry, could you repeat?
AMY GOODMAN: ISIS has claimed responsibility.
TRITA PARSI: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the two sites and their significance, the parliament and the site of the—of the tomb of Khomeini, the founder.
TRITA PARSI: Well, the parliament is tremendously important, because Iran has had a parliament for about a hundred years now. And despite the fact that Iran is not a democracy in the Western sense, it is a country that has competitive elections. And we just saw those elections two weeks ago for the presidency. And people tended to participate in these elections with tremendously high participation rates. So it is a very important symbol of what the struggle inside of Iran has been for more than a hundred years to move towards a more proper democracy.
Then, of course, the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, who was the founder of the current Islamic republic, carries a tremendous amount of symbolism. And the fact that ISIS has taken credibility, it’s a bit unusual. They usually don’t take credibility when something is ongoing, and they claimed credibility in the midst of this attack, essentially. But there is some video footage that has been released by ISIS-associated Twitter accounts that does indicate that they at least seem to have had a finger in all of this. And if that is the case, then ISIS has managed—they have tried numerous times to hit Iran, and now they’ve managed to hit Iran in the very, very heart of the capital.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I wanted to go back to this diplomatic crisis that is brewing. You have Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and the United Arab Emirates breaking off relations with Qatar, accusing Qatar of backing militant groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda, Qatar denying the accusations, the United Arab Emirates suspending all flights and sea travel to and from Qatar, Saudi Arabia also closing all ports between the two countries. And then you have this developing story that the media is reporting on, that actually—and then Trump says he’s responsible for this tension—proudly, he’s tweeting that, you know, after being there in Saudi Arabia, he pressured for this—while at the same time you have the State Department trying to smooth things over. And then you have the story that it was Russia that launched a cyberattack on the Qatari news service, planting a false story about Qatar supporting Iran. Can you put this all together?
TRITA PARSI: Well, regarding the last part, I’m not 100 percent sure, but we can definitely say that all of this does seem to have some linkages to each other. First of all, the move towards Qatar, which was clearly not an organic escalation, this was a very well-prepared escalation by the Saudis. And there are many, many different reasons as to why they may be doing this, but there’s one reason that I think may have been a bit overlooked in the coverage so far. Qatar is not a superpower. It’s not a particularly large country. But it is, in the media world, a superpower, and particularly in the Arab media a superpower, because of Al Jazeera Arabic. And Qatar has long challenged the Saudi narrative for the region. It has been sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. It has been quite supportive of the Morsi government and the initial revolutions after the Arab Springs in Egypt and elsewhere. The Saudis have been on the completely opposite side of this. And if the Saudis are aiming to escalate matters further toward some form of a confrontation with Iran, then one thing that they need to get rid of before they do so is Qatar and its ability to challenge the Saudi narrative inside the Arab world, in case such a thing happens. Just take a look what happened in 2006, when Israel and Hezbollah went to war with each other. The Saudis were quietly supporting of Israel at the time, and they did not manage to win the narrative and the war of narratives within the Arab world. The Arab world overwhelmingly was siding with Hezbollah in that conflict. And it taught them an important lesson of how important it is for them to have a much stronger media apparatus. And the biggest challenge to that is Al Jazeera Arabic within the Arab world.
So, these things do seem to be connected. And one thing that is very, very worrisome is that President Trump, right now, with the approach that he’s having, hugging the Saudis and selling them $110 billion of arms, whether he intended or not, clearly the Saudis have seen this as a green light for them to do things that they otherwise would probably not have had the guts to fulfill. And we saw that in Bahrain, as well, in which immediately after President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the Bahraini government started clamping down on human rights groups in a very, very ferocious manner. It was the European foreign minister yesterday that essentially said—and I paraphrase it—that the United States, under Trump, is now becoming a destabilizing factor in the Middle East.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, ISIS has claimed responsibility, but can you talk about the Iranian resistance group MEK?
TRITA PARSI: Yeah, so, my first thought when I saw this happening was that the MEK would be a very likely culprit in all of this, because it is a terrorist organization with a tremendous capacity for pulling off stunts of this magnitude, and one of the few groups that have been able to penetrate Iran, precisely because they can blend in in a way that ISIS and al-Qaeda groups have greater difficulty doing. And it’s a group that some powers have used in the past to do things inside of Iran. For instance, the Israelis were using the MEK in order to be able to assassinate Iranian scientists just a few years ago in the midst of the nuclear crisis with Iran. But if it is true that this is done by ISIS and if it has no connection to the MEK, then this would be a very, very different development. If it had been the MEK, then it would be a repeat of things that have happened in the past. It’s been a while, but nevertheless things that they have pulled off in Iran before.
AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, I want to thank you for being with us, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, talking about the latest developments in Iran right now—again, two attacks, one on the tomb of the founder, Khomeini, and one on the Iranian parliament. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.