Two people were confirmed killed and several others were reported injured after armed men burst into Tehran’s parliament building and the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ruhollah Khomeini on Wednesday, with state media reporting at least two suicide bombings. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the assaults — a highly unusual direct confrontation with the Iranian regime, focused on resonant symbols of its authority.
Citing unconfirmed reports, the Mehr news agency said seven people were killed in parliament and four were being held hostage. One security guard was confirmed killed during an exchange of gunfire in a corridor of the parliament, and several people were injured.
The attacks began midmorning when assailants armed with Kalashnikov rifles stormed the parliament building. One of the attackers later blew himself up inside, where a session had been in progress, according to a statement carried by Iran’s state TV.
Deputy Interior Minister Mohammad Hossein Zolfaghari told Iran’s state TV the apparently male attackers wore women’s attire.
An Associated Press reporter saw several police snipers on the rooftops of buildings around the parliament. Shops in the area were shuttered, and gunfire could be heard. Witnesses said the attackers were shooting from the fourth floor of the parliament building down at people in the streets below.
“I was passing by one of the streets. I thought that children were playing with fireworks, but I realized people are hiding and lying down on the streets,” Ebrahim Ghanimi, who was around the parliament building when the assailants stormed in, told The Associated Press. “With the help of a taxi driver, I reached a nearby alley.”
Police helicopters circled over the parliament building and all mobile phone lines from inside were disconnected. The semi-official ISNA news agency said all entrance and exit gates at parliament were closed and that lawmakers and reporters were ordered to remain in place inside the chamber.
There were conflicting reports from inside the parliament complex, with some reports saying the situation had been brought under control, while others said the shooting was continuing, with the buildings under lockdown.
ISNA reported that the shooters had been surrounded but had yet to be arrested.
An Iranian-based correspondent for the news agency Bloomberg tweeted that one of the gunmen had managed to escape from the parliament building and was shooting in the streets close by.
Meanwhile, an apparently coordinated attack by four terrorists, one of them a suicide bomber, took place at the tomb of Khomeini in southern Tehran, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the parliament building.
An armed attacker entered at the western entrance of the mausoleum and opened fire before blowing herself up with a suicide vest, the site’s head of public relations Ali Khalili told the IRNA news agency. A gardener was reportedly killed.
A second attacker, also a woman, who was equipped with six grenades, was killed by security guards, while a third committed suicide by swallowing cyanide. The fourth attacker was reportedly arrested.
The ILNA news agency said five people were injured by gunfire there, while other reports put that figure as high as eight.
In addition to being lethal, the attack on the shrine of Khomeini is symbolically stunning. As Iran’s first Supreme Leader, Khomeini is a towering figure in the country and was its revolutionary leader in the 1979 ouster of the shah.
An Associated Press reporter saw security forces, some uniformed and others in plainclothes, around the large and ornate shrine.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for both attacks in a statement carried by its Amaq news agency.
Shiite Iran has been singled out as a target by Sunni jihadists, including the Islamic State, but has largely escaped attacks within its urban centers.
Iran, and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, provides key ground forces against rebel groups in Syria and Iraq.