Iran says blasts near commander’s grave kill more than 100

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More than 100 people have been killed after two “terrorist attacks” at a ceremony in Iran to mark the death of a military commander, the country’s state media reported.

The explosions on Wednesday in the southern city of Kerman hit crowds gathering to commemorate four years since Qassem Soleimani, a former Revolutionary Guards leader, was assassinated by a US drone strike.

Iranian officials quoted by state television said 103 people had been killed in the twin blasts and 211 injured, making it the deadliest attack in the Islamic republic in decades. The death toll is expected to rise further as some of the wounded are in critical condition.

The attacks came amid high tensions across the Middle East triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel and the Jewish state’s offensive in Gaza.

Tasnim, a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, said two explosive-laden bags were put at the entrance of the cemetery in Kerman and that the perpetrators allegedly detonated the bombs remotely.

President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the “terrorist act” and vowed the “pursuit and identification of the planners and perpetrators”. Iranian state media and local officials also labelled the explosions a terrorist attack, but Tehran has not blamed a specific group or country. There was no claim of responsibility.

The two explosions happened minutes apart, Iranian officials said, with the second blast striking people who rushed to the scene. The majority of casualties took place during the second explosion. The first went off about 700 meters from Soleimani’s grave, while the second took place about 1km away.

Ahmad Vahidi, interior minister, said calm had been restored to the city, adding the perpetrators would face a tough response from Iran’s security forces.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, head of Iran’s judiciary, accused “mercenary terrorists” who were “the lackeys” of “arrogant powers”. 

The site of Wednesday’s attack was highly symbolic. Soleimani was Iran’s most powerful military figure before he was assassinated in Iraq, and revered as a national hero by the Islamic regime and its supporters. 

Iran has blamed previous attacks on militant organisations including the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group once backed by Iraq, as well as separatist groups and Sunni jihadis.

Map of Iran showing Kerman and Tehran

The Islamic regime has also blamed Israel for several assaults inside the republic since 2010, but they have been targeted attacks against officials who were members of Iran’s military or involved in its nuclear programme.

This included an attack in 2020 that involved a remote controlled bomb attached to a vehicle, which killed the republic’s top nuclear scientist.

The explosions on Wednesday came a day after Israel was accused of carrying out a drone strike in Beirut that killed a senior Hamas leader and six other members of the Palestinian militant group.

Iran backs militant groups across the region have launched attacks against Israel and US forces since the Israel-Hamas war erupted on October 7. But Iran has insisted that the militants it supports act independently and has said it does not want to be drawn into a broader regional conflict, despite its support for Hamas.

After blaming Israel for the killing of a senior Revolutionary Guards commander in Syria last week, Iranian officials stated they reserved the right to respond without explicitly committing to escalation.

Islamic State, the Sunni jihadist movement, has also previously carried out attacks in Iran, a predominantly Shia nation, including an attempted assault on the parliament building in Tehran and the mausoleum of the republic’s founder Ruhollah Khomeini in 2017.

The following year, gunmen opened fire on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, killing dozens of people, including members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Additional reporting by Bita Ghaffari in Tehran and Mehul Srivastava in Tel Aviv

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