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World

Twin Attacks In Tehran, ISIS Claims Responsibility

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have some sounds this morning of an assault on Iran's Parliament. It's a giant building, a kind of pyramid in the center of Tehran surrounded by security checkpoints. Several gunmen today assaulted that complex, and Iranian state TV captured some of the sounds. Let's just listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is one of two attacks reported in Iran's capital. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks that Iranian state media say have left at least 12 dead. Golnar Motevalli of Bloomberg News is on the line with us now from Tehran. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

GOLNAR MOTEVALLI: It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: As best as you have been able to learn, what happened once the gunmen stormed the Parliament building?

MOTEVALLI: Well, from what we know from the Interior Ministry and a few other officials, there were at least four attackers that entered the Parliament building through one of the public entry points. Others say that they entered from a public entrance at the back of the building. But as you said, it's a really large building, but the entrances are quite clear from the outside.

And it's surrounded by iron railings. So from what we've been told so far, at least four attackers entered the building. The deputy interior minister has said that they were dressed as women. And as soon as they entered the vicinity, probably where the security check is, they began shooting randomly. At that point, they became engaged in a firefight with security forces that are ordinarily always deployed at the Parliament building.

MARTIN: Yeah.

MOTEVALLI: It seems that one of them tried to run away. Others succeeded in entering the main compound of Iran's Parliament...

MARTIN: Which is heavily secured, yeah.

MOTEVALLI: Yeah, and...

INSKEEP: I want to underline one thing that you just mentioned there. You said at least according to an Iranian official that the attackers may have been dressed as women. This is one of those...

MOTEVALLI: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Details I guess we have to wait to check. But if it's true, we should just note, in Iran, women would be expected and required to dress very modestly in very, very loose clothes, which I suppose would make it easier to conceal firearms.

MARTIN: Or a full abaya, which would be even easier.

MOTEVALLI: We don't have abayas in Iran. Abayas are commonly worn in Gulf Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region. In Iran, religious women tend to wear a covering called a chador. It's made of black fabric, and it is very loose. And it hangs from the top of the head down...

MARTIN: Let me ask you...

MOTEVALLI: There's no fitting. So it's possible that the attackers, if that's what the Interior Ministry means, it's possible that they're referring to the chador, that they were probably dressed in one of those cloaks.

MARTIN: Understood. Let me ask you this. The Islamic State appears to have claimed responsibility for these attacks. Has Iran been waging a war against ISIS?

MOTEVALLI: Iran is actively - it says it is actively fighting so-called ISIS Daesh fighters in Syria and very much so in Iraq. We know that Iranian security forces and some elements of Iran's army are engaged in what they say - advisory roles in Syria and also in Iraq. They're very active in the fight to liberate Mosul from so-called IS and Daesh insurgents.

So, yeah, they are very much engaged in a war. But the war, up until this point, the fight that Iran has been engaged in has not been waged as explicitly on Iran's own soil as we have seen this morning in Tehran. They're always - there are regularly reports of border skirmishes - attempts by insurgents to penetrate Iran's borders.

But again, we're never clear whether those are IS Daesh attackers or whether they're part of a kind of existing Sunni insurgency that's kind of been on and off in Iran...

MARTIN: Yeah.

MOTEVALLI: ...Over the past decade or so.

MARTIN: How much does this attack represent a Sunni-Shia divide?

MOTEVALLI: Not within the country, I don't think, if you look at the latest presidential elections in which Rouhani was re-elected. The most populous Sunni province in Iran, Sistan Baluchestan in the southeast of the country voted overwhelmingly in favor of Rouhani. Seventy-three percent of Iran's predominantly Sunni province voted for Rouhani.

And Rouhani's campaigned partly on a ticket of national unity and support of minorities. You know, if I'm speaking as an Iranian citizen and not as a journalist...

MARTIN: Yeah.

MOTEVALLI: ...Working for Bloomberg, to me, this seems like an external...

MARTIN: An external threat and...

MOTEVALLI: Yes...

MARTIN: ...Division.

MOTEVALLI: ...An external threat rather than any indication of any internal divide.

MARTIN: We'll have to leave it there. Golnar Motevalli of Bloomberg News reporting on the terrorist attacks in Tehran today. Thank you so much for your time.

MOTEVALLI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.