Gunmen Storm Iranian Pilgrimage Site In Major Attack: 15 Dead & 40 Wounded

A popular religious destination in south-central Iran has been hit with a major terrorist attack on Wednesday at a moment tensions in the Islamic Republic are already boiling after over a month of anti-government protests.

"At least 15 people have been killed and 40 others injured in an attack on a Shia religious shrine in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, according to the country’s state media, IRNA," Al Jazeera writes.

Gunmen Storm Iranian Pilgrimage Site In Major Attack: 15 Dead & 40 Wounded

The Shah Cheragh Shrine is a famous Shia funerary monument and mosque, among the iconic city's most famous attractions drawing millions of pilgrims each year. 

Regional reports say the attack started when three armed men entered the shrine and opened fire on crowds of worshippers. There were initial conflicting reports over how many men carried out the attack.

Iranian state media details that "The attack targeted worshippers who were preparing for evening prayers. Reports say one woman and three children were among the victims." The gunmen stormed the religious complex and attempted to kill as many random people as possible.

"The terrorist started shooting at the worshippers after entering the holy shrine through the front door," Iran's Mehr News agency reports. Al Jazeera says, citing local sources, that two of the attackers have been arrested, however, one was able to flee the scene. 

IRNA cited eyewitnesses who described the attackers as "takfiri terrorists" - a reference to hardline Sunni groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda. Iran-linked Nour news in early reporting described the men as "not Iranian nationals." 

Gunmen Storm Iranian Pilgrimage Site In Major Attack: 15 Dead & 40 Wounded

While such a brazen attack by a foreign terrorist group is rare inside Iran, it's not the first time the religious pilgrimage site suffered large-scale attack. Shiraz was hit by a major mosque bombing in April 2008, which killed 14 people. 

Likely security services will use this latest incident to justify the need to crack down harder on anti-government protesters. What have been dubbed "anti-hijab" demonstrations have become progressively fiercer in the weeks since the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amin in police custody. 

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