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Tehran Terror Attacks Expose Rifts Within Iranian Establishment

A Revolutionary Guard moves during the attack on parliament in the center Tehran June 7.

Appeals for unity answered with calls for revenge. Pledges of solidarity competing against vows to "eliminate" the culprits.

The deadly twin terror attacks that rocked the Iranian capital, Tehran, on June 7 have triggered a dramatic split in public opinion.

Many officials, as well as the country's pro-reform and moderate press, are calling for unity in the aftermath of the attacks. Hard-liners, however, are vowing revenge while pointing fingers at Iran's main regional rival, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

Seventeen people were killed and more than 40 wounded when assailants stormed the parliament building in central Tehran and simultaneously attacked the shrine of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility, a first for the militants in Iran.

"Hand-In-Hand Against Terrorism" and "Together For Iran" read the front page of the reformist daily Bahar, which featured a drawing of several clasped hands and one of the most prominent symbols in Tehran, the Azadi tower.

Etemad had a similar headline on its front page, which featured a photo of the rescue operation by security forces at the parliament. "We Are All Together," the daily said.

It added that following the attacks, "The people of Iran have become one voice against terrorism."

Etemad carried an opinion piece that referred to the attacks as a "golden opportunity" for a show of national unity, while warning against those attempting to disrupt it.

"We have to be careful not to disrupt people's unity and cohesion with hasty judgments and childish attempts at revenge," Etemad warned.

"United We Stand," said the main headline on the front page of the daily Shahrvand, while another daily, Vaghaye Etefaghieh, chose "Resistance In Tehran" as its main headline.

The reformist Aftab-e Yazd featured several images of the attacks with the headline "Black Wednesday."

Writing in the daily Ghanoon, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi linked the attacks in Tehran, particularly on parliament, to the May 19 presidential vote, which saw a relatively high turnout.

"The attack on the parliament, which is the highest symbol of democracy, demonstrates that these groups have an issue with democracy and democratic principles," Qassemi said.

He said the attacks will result in more unity among Iranians inside and outside the country.

And many Iranians inside and outside the country reacted to the attacks by posting messages and images of solidarity on social media.

In contrast, the main headline in the hard-line daily Javan was a quotation from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "They Will Be Eliminated."

Another headline on Javan's front page quoted a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on the attacks: "We Will Take Revenge."

The powerful IRGC has claimed that Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks. Javan also appeared to link the attacks in Tehran to Saudi Arabia while also blaming the United States for supporting the kingdom.

"This bitter incident happened [after] U.S. President Donald Trump, in a [controversial] trip to the region, extended his hand of friendship to one of the most important supporters of terrorism in the region, the House of Saud, and in exchange for a bribe worth several hundred million dollars closed his eyes on their terrorist actions," the daily claimed.

"Now the terrorist group [Islamic State], which is directly supported by the Saudis," has carried out two attacks in Tehran, it claimed.

The daily also cited comments made in May by Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman al-Saud, in which he said that Riyadh would bring the "battle" for regional influence to Iran.

The ultra-hard-line daily Kayhan went even further by suggesting that the United States was behind the Tehran attacks, while also blaming Saudi Arabia. "There is no doubt that the [Islamic State] and the Saudis are thirsty for the blood of Iranians, but this should not make us neglect the main mastermind," the daily said. "What terrorist attacks in Iran cannot be linked to America?" Kayhan added.

The daily alleged ties between IS and Saudi Arabia, saying that "action is also needed," not just talk. But Kayhan said it is important to look at the main "director of the bloody and inhumane scenario."

The daily then highlighted a recent New York Times article about the appointment of a new head of the Iran desk at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), while asking whether Tehran's June 7 terrorist attacks were the first "complaisance" by the CIA's new Iran chief designed to please U.S. President Donald Trump.

The appointment of Michael D'Andrea, aka the Dark Prince, is one of many moves inside the agency that signal a more muscular approach to espionage and covert operations.

Outspoken lawmaker Ali Motahari said on Twitter that the attacks should not put Iran on the opposite side of Arab countries.

"The policy of Zionism is to put Iran and the Arabs against each other. We shouldn't get caught in this trap," Motahari wrote on the social-media site, which is blocked for ordinary Iranians.

Hessameddin Ashna, a presidential adviser on cultural affairs, warned against a harsh state response to the attacks. "Usually, following terrorist attacks, a [common] reaction by judiciary and security officials is to carry out the death sentences of convicts who belong to the same terrorist group," Ashna wrote on Twitter. But he warned that IS can use such "revengeful reactions" to recruit new members and continue its cycle of terror.

He also suggested that such executions could negatively impact the international sympathy that the attacks have brought for the country and its people.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.