Over 50 killed, 212 hurt in Soleimani funeral stampede; general’s burial delayed
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Over 50 killed, 212 hurt in Soleimani funeral stampede; general’s burial delayed

Incident in general’s hometown of Kerman causes mourners to flee for surrounding hills; a Monday procession for the slain general in Tehran drew over 1 million people

Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qassem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qassem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Over 50 people were killed and 212 were injured in a stampede that erupted at the funeral procession of an Iranian general slain last week in a US strike, Iranian media reported.

The stampede left “more than 50 dead,” said Abbas Amian, chief of the forensic institute in Qassem Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman, in southeastern Iran.

The semi-official agency ISNA, quoting the head of the city rescue services Mohammad Sabéri, said for its part that 212 people were also injured in the tragedy, “a small number” of which were in “serious condition”.

Authorities later delayed Revolutionary Guard general Soleimani’s burial, citing concerns about the massive crowd that had gathered, ISNA said. It did not say when the burial would take place.

Initial videos posted online showed people lying lifeless on a road, while others shouted and tried to help them.

People were seen taking refuge on hillsides around the city on state television.

A procession in Tehran on Monday had drawn over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main thoroughfares and side streets.

Mourners in Kerman on Tuesday dressed in black carried posters bearing the image of Soleimani, a man whose slaying prompted Iran’s supreme leader to weep over his casket on Monday as a crowd said by police to be in the millions filled Tehran streets. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million, and the throngs were visible on satellite images of Tehran taken Monday.

The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The US blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020 (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State fighters to mount a comeback.

Chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general Hossein Salami speaks in a ceremony to unveil new anti-US murals painted on the walls of former US embassy in Tehran, Iran, November 2, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Soleimani’s remains and those of the others killed in the airstrike were brought to a central square in Kerman, a desert city surrounded by mountains that dates back to the days of the Silk Road, where he will be buried later on Tuesday.

The leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened on Tuesday to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a US airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!”

Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman, the hometown of Soleimani. His vow mirrored the demands of top Iranian officials — from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to others — as well as supporters across the Islamic Republic, demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

Salami praised Soleimani’s exploits and said as a martyr, he represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies.

“We will take revenge. We will set ablaze where they like,” Salami said, drawing the cries of “Death to Israel!”

Israel is a longtime regional foe of Iran.

According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans for revenge for Soleimani’s killing. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the US. He declined to give any details,

“If the US troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.

Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, passed an urgent bill declaring the US military’s command at the Pentagon in Washington and those acting on its behalf “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to mirror a decision by US President Donald Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”

Screen capture from video shows Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei openly weeping as he leads a prayer over the coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, during a funeral ceremony at the Tehran University campus, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)

The US Defense Department used the Guard’s designation as a terror organization in the US to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran’s parliament, done by a special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.

Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the US had declined to issue him a visa to travel to New York for upcoming meetings at the United Nations. The US as the host of the UN headquarters is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.

“They fear that someone comes to the US and reveals realities,” Zarif said and added: “The world is not limited to New York and you can talk to the American people from Tehran and we will do that.”

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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