Iran video threatens missile strikes on UAE, Saudi Arabia

Mourners carry flag-draped caskets during a mass funeral for victims of Saturday's terror attack on a military parade, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Thousands of mourners gathered at the Sarallah Mosque on Ahvaz's Taleghani junction, carrying caskets in the sweltering heat. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian media outlet close to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard published a video Tuesday threatening missile attacks on the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, further raising tensions after a weekend militant attack on an Iranian military parade.

The video, in a tweet by the semi-official Fars news agency that was later deleted, comes as Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed Riyadh and Abu Dhabi for the attack in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday, which killed at least 24 people and wounded over 60. Saudi Arabia adamantly rejected the allegations.

The threat amplifies the unease felt across the Persian Gulf, as Iran's economy reels in the wake of America's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal and Saudi and Emirati forces are bogged down in their war against Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen.

Iranian officials on Tuesday identified the five men who carried out the parade attack, which authorities have blamed on Arab separatists. At least two of the men have appeared in a video distributed by the Islamic State group in its own claim of responsibility for the Ahvaz attack. This further complicates the process of determining who exactly was behind the assault.

Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a bitter regional rivalry with Iran, on Tuesday rejected the "deplorable false accusations" it was involved in the attack.

"Saudi Arabia's policy is clear regarding its non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency. "The Iranian regime, in contrast, interferes in the affairs of its neighbors, and is the leading sponsor of terrorism in the region and the world."

The Fars video showed file footage of previous ballistic missiles launched by the Guard, then a graphic of a sniper rifle scope trained on Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia. The video also threatened Israel.

"The era of the hit-and-run has expired," Khamenei is heard saying in the video, a clip from an April speech by the supreme leader. "A heavy punishment is underway."

Fars did not say why it took the video down. However, it came just before President Hassan Rouhani was to address the U.N. General Assembly later in the day.

Iran has launched two ballistic missile attacks in recent years. In 2017, responding to an Islamic State attack on Tehran, the Guard fired missiles striking IS targets in Syria. Earlier this month, Iran launched a strike on a meeting of Iranian Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq.

The Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Khamenei, has sole control over Iran's ballistic missile program.

Under Khamenei's orders, Iran now limits its ballistic missiles to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), which gives Tehran the range to strike Israel, Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as regional American military bases.

The Fars video follows a long tradition of martial propaganda films across the Mideast.

Last December, a pro-Saudi computer-animated video depicted a scenario in which the kingdom launched its own missiles into Iran and later sent its troops into Tehran to the applause of cheering Iranians. Iran likewise released a video in 2016 showing Iranian forces triumphing over an American naval fleet after they shot down an airliner, a reference to the USS Vincennes downing an Iran Air flight in 1988, which killed all 290 people aboard.

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." Militants disguised as soldiers opened fire as rows of troops marched past officials in Ahvaz.

Arab separatists in the region claimed 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. Iran's Khuzestan province, where Ahvaz is the provincial capital, has seen recent protests over Iran's nationwide drought, as well as economic protests.

IS also claimed Saturday's attack, initially offering incorrect information about it and later publishing a video of three men it identified as the attackers. The men in the video, however, did not pledge allegiance or otherwise identify themselves as IS followers.

Iran's Intelligence Ministry on Tuesday identified the attackers as Hassan Darvishi, Javad Sari, Ahmad Mansouri, Foad Mansouri and Ayad Mansouri. It said two of them were brothers and another was their cousin.

Darvishi and Ayad Mansouri both appeared in the IS video. A third man in the video resembled either Ahmad or Foad Mansouri, but The Associated Press could not independently verify his identity.

Iranian officials have maintained that Arab separatists carried out the attack. A spokesman for an Ahvazi separatist group on Saturday also identified one of the attackers by name — Ahmad Mansouri — in an interview with AP reporters.

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 state-run IRNA news agency meanwhile dropped the death toll from the attack to at least 24 killed, noting the initial figure of 25 included one of the attackers. It said the assault wounded at least 68 people.

___

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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