Women gather during a funeral of the victims of assault that killed 25 people, in the streets of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, Iran, September 24 2018. Picture: TASNIM NEWS/REUTERS
Women gather during a funeral of the victims of assault that killed 25 people, in the streets of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, Iran, September 24 2018. Picture: TASNIM NEWS/REUTERS

Ahvaz — Tens of thousands of mourners attended Monday’s funeral in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz for soldiers and civilians killed in an attack on a military parade on Saturday.

Four militants attacked the parade marking the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, spraying the crowd with bullets and killing 24 people.

Iranian officials blamed the weekend attack on Arab separatists, backed by Gulf Arab allies of the US.

Civilians and troops were seen carrying coffins draped with Iranian flags. Mourners, mostly clad in black, carried pictures of the dead and banners reading, "We will stand to the end" and "No to terrorism".

Under a blazing sun, crowds streamed in from all four main streets leading into the city centre’s square where the funeral was held. Three of the streets were allocated for men and the fourth for women.

In the square, also segregated, a woman dressed in the traditional Arab-style chador wailed loudly and held a picture of her son, Reza Shoaibi, a conscript who was among the people killed.

As the funeral progressed, her wailing and cries of sorrow steadily grew louder until she fainted.

The heat became so intolerable that trucks sprayed water on the crowd as temperatures reached 40ºC.

Mourners waved red, green and black flags with revolutionary messages as well as the flags of Arab tribes of the surrounding Khuzestan region.

Iranian authorities have blamed Arab separatists and accused the US, Israel and Gulf Arab monarchies of backing Saturday’s "terrorist" attack.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Khuzestan, which has a large ethnic Sunni Arab community, was a major battleground in the war with Iraq. Kurdish rebels often attack military patrols on the border further north, but attacks on government targets in major cities are rare.

Monday’s ceremony began in front of the square’s Sarallah Mosque with speeches by generals and security officials.

The intelligence minister, Mahmoud Alavi, said that arrests had been made.

"The terrorists themselves have perished. Our agents will identify their remnants and supporters to the last man.

"A major part of them have already been arrested," he said.

Brig Gen Hossein Salami, deputy head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, vowed to exact vengeance.

"We promise that our reaction will be devastating, we warn everyone that we will take revenge," he told mourners.

After the speeches ended, a famous wartime religious chanter sang songs of lamentation as thousands of mourners beat their chests in unison, a traditional mourning practice of Shiite Muslims.

Later, the coffins were transported to the city cemetery and laid to rest. The victims of the attack included a preschool boy and a war veteran who was wheelchair-bound.

Pictures of women and children scrambling to find cover evoked an emotional response from Iranians.

Abdolzahra Savari, an ethnic Arab who had attended the funeral, called the attackers infidels. "These are ruthless people with no shred of humanity in them," he said.

Sabah Abiad, a middle-aged bank employee who attended the funeral, said the unity among the region’s different groups was self-evident.

AFP

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