This image grab from a UGC video released on October 26, 2022 shows hundreds of protesters clapping and cheering during a rally in Saqez, Mahsa Amini's hometown in IRan's western Kurdistan province, on the 40th day since her death. Image Credit: AFP

PARIS: Iran’s leaders vowed Thursday to “punish” those behind a shooting that killed 15 worshippers at a Shiite shrine, as security forces pushed on with their deadly crackdown against women-led protests.

In the latest violence, a rights group said, security forces killed a Kurdish man when protesters massed around government buildings in western Iran, a flashpoint area in almost six weeks of unrest sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.

As thousands mourned 22-year-old Amini on Wednesday, Iran was also rocked by an attack claimed by the Daesh (Islamic State) terror group in which, state media said, a gunman killed at least 15 people at a shrine in the southern city of Shiraz.

Ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to link the two tragedies when he declared that “the intention of the enemy is to disrupt the country’s progress, and then these riots pave the ground for terrorist acts”.

Raisi has vowed “a severe response” over the mass killing at the Shiite Shah Cheragh mausoleum following evening prayers.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for united efforts against the “plot” by Iran’s enemies. “The perpetrator or perpetrators of this saddening crime will certainly be punished,” he said.

Iran has been gripped by its biggest protests for years since Amini died on September 16, three days after her Tehran arrest by the notorious morality police for allegedly breaching the country’s dress code for women.

The latest protests in the west follow a massive ceremony Wednesday marking 40 days since Amini’s death, held in her hometown of Saqez, Kurdistan province.

Iran’s ISNA news agency said nearly 10,000 people had gathered there, but many thousands more were seen making their way in cars, on motorbikes and on foot, in videos widely shared online.

‘The army supports us’

The protests sparked by Amini’s death have been led by young women who have burned their headscarves and confronted security forces.

Despite heightened security measures, columns of mourners had poured into Saqez on Wednesday, paying tribute at her grave at the end of the traditional 40-day mourning period.

In another western city, Mahabad, security forces Thursday shot dead at least three people, said the Hengaw human rights group, adding that protesters returning from the funeral of another demonstrator had surrounded government buildings.

A video posted on the Iran Wire news website showed protesters setting fire to the governor’s office.

“We should not mourn for our youth, we should avenge them,” they chanted, according to the Norway-based organisation that monitors violations in Kurdish-populated areas.

On Thursday protesters shouted “the army supports us”, and people fleeing gunfire from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sought refuge at a barracks in Saqez, Hengaw said.

It added that the Guards had “disarmed the army forces” on Wednesday, according to witnesses, but did not elaborate.

Gunfire sent protesters scrambling for cover in the city of Dehgolan, also in Kurdistan province, Hengaw said.

Protesters surrounded a base of the Basij militia in Sanandaj, Kurdistan, starting fires and driving security forces back, and there were similar scenes in Ilam city, near the border with Iraq.

Mourners also gathered Thursday at the grave of 16-year-old Nika Shahkarami near the western city of Khorramabad, 40 days after she was killed by security forces, the US-based HRANA rights group said.

“I’ll kill, I’ll kill, whoever killed my sister,” they could be heard chanting, in a video HRANA posted on Twitter.

Youths also gathered to honour her at universities in Tehran and Karaj, west of the capital, where they sang: “Students may die but will not accept humiliation”, in other footage it shared.

‘Bloody shows’

Some activists behind the daily protests over Amini’s death, which have evolved into a broader campaign to end the Islamic republic founded in 1979, have raised suspicions over the timing of the Shiraz attack.

“For its survival, for distracting the protesters, for justifying killings and crackdowns, the Islamic republic always puts on such bloody shows,” one of them, Atena Daemi, tweeted.

“The people have been fighting for 40 days non-stop to end such crimes.”

Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights says the security forces’ crackdown on the Amini protests has cost the lives of at least 141 demonstrators, including at least 29 children.

The United States on Wednesday slapped sanctions on more than a dozen Iranian officials over the bloody response to the protests.

The White House said it was “concerned that Moscow may be advising Iran on best practices to manage protests, drawing on... extensive experience in suppressing” opponents.