Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the U.S. and Israel for ongoing protests in his country, breaking weeks of silence on Monday to comment on the greatest public opposition to his regime in years.
Protests across Iran broke out following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after allegedly going out in public without a headscarf. While the Iranian police have denied responsibility, Amini's father told BBC News that he blamed them for her death.
Khamenei's comments came during a speech in which he said the unrest in the country "was planned," according to Axios. While Khamenei did express his sympathy for Amini's death, he added, "These riots and insecurities were designed by America and the Zionist regime, and their employees."
"Their main problem is with a strong and independent Iran and the progress of the country," the supreme leader claimed. "They made the streets unsafe, burned Qurans, removed hijab from veiled women's heads, set fire to mosques and people's cars."
"If it wasn't for this young girl, [the U.S. and Israel] would have created another excuse to create insecurity and riots in the country," he said.
Khamenei went on to defend the actions of the Iranian police against the protesters, who have been seen cracking down on dissenters, often violently. Sources at the Sharif University of Technology told The Associated Press that police had even trapped students on campus while deploying tear gas.
At least 83 protesters have already been killed, according to Reuters.