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What Tehran Residents Had To Say As They Went To Friday Prayers


What on Earth are we going to wake up to tomorrow? That's a question our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly, has been hearing a lot this week in Iran. It's been exactly a week since Iranians woke up to news that their most celebrated general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike.


Since then, there was the deadly stampede at the funeral procession in Soleimani's hometown, the Iranian missile strikes on military bases in Iraq that host U.S. troops and the crash of a Ukrainian airplane just after taking off from Tehran Airport. All of this was on people's mind today, as they made their way to Friday prayers in Tehran. Mary Louise went along, or at least she tried to.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: We had our documents all signed, stamped. You need official approval as a non-Iranian, a non-Muslim and a journalist to go inside Friday prayers. But when we turned up at Imam Khomeini Mosalla, a massive prayer complex here in Tehran, we were greeted by a man wagging his finger, no Americans. On the sidewalks just outside, though, people were streaming past us to go in. A busload of soldiers arrived to pray. Whole families straggled in. Nayerreh Sadat Mahmoudi, a mother of three, was there with her family, says she tries to come every Friday, but this week feels unusually intense.

You say you came with much more feeling. What is the feeling? Is it anger, sadness?

NAYERREH SADAT MAHMOUDI: (Through interpreter) It's a mixture of grief and - because we have lost someone very dear to us. But it's also a feeling of revenge, a feeling of combat, a feeling that we are ready. And each one of us can actually be a General Soleimani.

KELLY: It was not hard to get people talking. As we did interviews, others approached and waited their turn. One guy asked to interview me. Another, an older gentleman named Ali Ghamarian Zadeh, wanted to air his views on Americans.

ALI GHAMARIAN ZADEH: (Through interpreter) The Americans...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And I want to put in parentheses, I think he means the governance.

GHAMARIAN ZADEH: (Through interpreter) ...Are not trustworthy. We cannot trust them. They say one thing and do another. They do not act upon their promises.

KELLY: We heard similar thoughts from a woman nearby who was raising money for charity at a card table she'd set up. She, too, had a message for America.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) We are sorry for losing Sardyr Soleimani, but we are happy that we can stand and we can punch America.

KELLY: Punch America. Before I could ask another question, she added, we have no problem with the people of America...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Farsi).

KELLY: ...Just Trump. This woman declined to give her name, but she was OK with our recording, including the answer to a question I put to everyone we spoke to today - do you believe the U.S. claim that the Ukraine Airlines plane that crashed after takeoff from Tehran airport this week, that it was downed by an Iranian missile?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) No, no, no, no, no. This was an accident. There was a mechanical problem that occurred. America, by saying this rumor, is trying to enrage us. But it's a rumor, and America is lying.

KELLY: That is pretty much the view of everyone we talked to outside Friday prayers - that the U.S. and Canada and other countries who are alleging an Iranian missile was to blame are making it up. The people I met today don't represent a scientific sample, obviously, but their views are in line with how Iranian state media is reporting on the crash. Here's Mohammad Reza Chegeni, a retired historian.

MOHAMMAD REZA CHEGENI: (Through interpreter) We would only accept what is aired from our own national TV, and that's what we would believe. For now, it's not clear exactly what happened, but the black box is there, and there has to be research done into that. But we don't - for now, we don't believe the rumor that has been going on about the missile hitting the plane. We don't accept that.

KELLY: And with that, Chegeni turned and headed in to hear the prayers. Tomorrow marks the start of a new week here in Iran. The workweek here runs Saturday to Wednesday. And a lot of people are hoping this next week is a lot quieter than the one they've just lived through.

CORNISH: And that's our co-host, Mary Louise Kelly, reporting from Tehran, and our stories from Iran this week were produced by Becky Sullivan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.