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Iran: Ambiguous Response To London Bombings

Tehran's reaction to the 7 July terrorist attacks in London is following a pattern seen before, and what this pattern shows is that the government projects an earnest and civilized facade to the outside world. At the same time, Tehran is highly critical of the outside world in messages to its domestic audience, and it tends to pin the blame on the victims. A precedent for this reaction, albeit on a different scale, was Tehran's response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Tehran's immediate response to the 7 July terrorist attacks in London was a statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi in which he condemned the bombings and expressed sympathy for the victims' families, according to state television.

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami condemned the attacks in an 8 July statement, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported. "Such terrorist moves are not only in direct contrast with all values and teachings of the divine monotheist faiths, but also seriously condemned and loathed by the whole humankind." Khatami added, "I hereby express my deep sympathy with the bereaved families of this incident's victims and wish for full recovery of its wounded victims."

A state television commentary on 7 July, however, struck a different note. It suggested that the bombings represent a "complete failure for [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair," and it added that "Blair's government has always been criticized for blindly following the American policies in Iraq and Afghanistan." The commentary said the British public will want to know why "Blair and his friends are searching for terrorists thousands of kilometers away, while the terrorist are targeting the British people in the heart of London."

An Iranian state radio commentary on 8 July blamed the Israeli intelligence organization, Mossad. The commentary cited the BBC as saying there were no witnesses to identify the perpetrators of the bombings. This claim, according to the Iranian commentary, "strengthens suspicion that the Zionist circles, in particular the Mossad espionage organization, were behind London's bloody events." The commentary connected the attacks with the G-8 summit in Edinburgh, saying, "often simultaneously with every G-8 summit, the Mossad organization tries to do something in order to direct the attention of the G-8 leaders towards the opponents of the Zionist regime." It concluded, "Of course, this espionage organization is the only body capable of carrying out such operations in London."

Friday Prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani condemned the bombings in his 8 July sermon, according to state radio, and he extended his sympathies. Kashani noted that Prime Minister Blair said although the terrorists act in the name of Islam the majority of Muslims are decent and law-abiding.

Kashani then asked hypothetically, "have you forgotten who the parents of Al-Qaeda are?" "America is the father and Israel the mother," he answered. He went on to suggest that the British got what was coming to them.

"You brought this [illegitimate son] in the name of Islam. It is therefore obvious what will be the fate of a son whose father was the White House's [global] arrogance and whose mother was the hangman of Israel. And you named him Islam. The destiny of such a boy is obvious, and your motive is clear. You brought to exploit him as a pest against our life. But praise be to Allah, he became a pest of your life."

State radio on 9 July argued that Al-Qaeda is the most likely perpetrator of the attacks, before going on to pin some of the blame on the United States. It said "most analysts" find a "direct correlation between these bombings and the failure of America's methods in its war on terror." It went on to say, "America and the extremist policies of the Bush's government are to blame -- to some degree -- for these attacks and loss of human lives." State radio concluded, "It is, therefore, possible that the British people are paying the price for their elected government's support of America's foreign policy, especially in Iraq."

After 9/11

Three-and-a-half years ago, after 9/11, President Khatami condemned the attacks and expressed condolences on Iran's behalf. "I condemn the terrorist operations of hijacking and attacking public places in American cities, which have resulted in the death of a large number of defenseless American people," he said. The Iranian people, furthermore, responded with a genuine and spontaneous outpouring of sympathy. This ranged from signing a condolence book at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests, to a moment of silence at a soccer match.

But just as it did in 2005, the regime blamed the victims. "The planning of operations, the selection of targets and the savage way in which the operations were carried out in America show that non-American groups are incapable of carrying out such attacks," Tehran Radio asserted on 12 September.

Ayatollah Emami-Kashani said in his Friday Prayers sermon three days after the 2001 attacks, "Israel and the usurper Zionist regime are the number one state terrorists. They are causing havoc like this.... America itself, the White House and the prevalent policy in the United States, most of which is in the hands of the Zionists -- they condone these crimes which are perpetrated here and there."

"America's expansionist policies were the cause of recent developments," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said six days after the 2001 attacks. "Most of the evidence points the finger of suspicion towards the Zionists for masterminding the recent incidents in America," according to Khamenei, and he went on to say that Israel is exploiting the situation to oppress the Muslim Palestinians.

The two incidents -- the London bombings of 7 July 2005 and the 9/11 attacks -- are not isolated cases. For example, Tehran blamed the United States for the March 2004 bombings in Uzbekistan, and violence in Iraq is routinely blamed on occupation forces.

More sophisticated observers in Iran are unlikely to believe such accounts by state media or officials. Those who have less access to information about the outside world and who are dependent on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting for news, however, may become convinced by what they hear.