At least 84 people were said to have been killed on Wednesday in two explosions near the grave of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq exactly four years ago, in what a local Iranian official claimed was a “terror attack.”
State television earlier said at least 103 people had been killed and 141 injured, but authorities revised the death toll down twice, saying Thursday morning that 84 had been killed and at least 284 injured. Iran’s state television announced that the government had declared a national day of mourning.
Iran has multiple foes who could be behind the assault, including exile groups, armed organizations and state actors. While Israel has carried out attacks in Iran over its nuclear program, it has conducted targeted assassinations, not mass casualty bombings. Sunni extremist groups, including the Islamic State group, have conducted large-scale attacks in the past that killed civilians in Shiite-majority Iran, though not in relatively peaceful Kerman.
Iran also has seen mass protests in recent years, including those over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022. The country also has been targeted by exile groups in attacks dating back to the turmoil surrounding its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iranian state television said the blasts occurred in the central city of Kerman during a ceremony to mark the fourth anniversary of the death of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ terror chief Soleimani.
The live broadcast had shown thousands of mourners participating in the commemoration.
“The blasts were caused by terrorist attacks,” Rahman Jalali, the deputy governor of Kerman province where Soleimani is buried, told state television.
The semi-official Nournews had said earlier that “several gas canisters exploded on the road leading to the cemetery.”
State TV showed Red Crescent rescuers attending to wounded people at the ceremony.
“Our rapid response teams are evacuating the injured… But there are waves of crowds blocking roads,” Reza Fallah, head of the Kerman province Red Crescent told state TV.
Sources on the ground told local media that the explosions came from suicide bombers in two separate locations, but that was not confirmed by an official statement.
Other witnesses told the Tasnim news site that the explosions were caused by explosive-laden suitcases, detonated by remote control.
Iranian media denied reports on social media that a senior IRGC commander was also killed in the explosions.
Islamic Republic authorities are now telling state media that at least 73 people, including six children, have been killed in the terrorist attack which occurred near the gravesite of Qassem Soleimani in the Iranian city of Kerman.
Authorities say 171 have been… pic.twitter.com/aruPgp7PS3
— Yashar Ali ???? (@yashar) January 3, 2024
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional terror activities and is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy.
Soleimani, who led the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, was credited with helping arm, train and lead armed groups across the region, including the Shiite militias in Iraq, fighters in Syria and Yemen, the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group, and Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza.
The US held him responsible for the deaths of many of its soldiers in Iraq.
Iranian state media says two explosions have struck a procession marking the anniversary of General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination.
The blasts reportedly happened near the slain commander’s gravesite in the city of Kerman. pic.twitter.com/KbgkrewSf8
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 3, 2024
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to “definitely take revenge on those behind the terrorist attack in Kerman,” the Al Arabiya news outlet reported.
Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber accused Israel of having a hand in the attack, saying that “the representatives of the Zionist regime” had spilled blood with the blast, the BBC’s Persian-language website reported.
Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi also promised vengeance, declaring that “this terrorist act will be met with a powerful and crushing response from the security and military apparatuses in the shortest possible time,” according to the outlet. Al Jazeera cited Vahidi, who is also a commander in the IRGC, as saying “the enemy is launching psychological operations.”
He asked the Iranian public to not believe any speculation or rumors about the explosions. Speaking to state media, Vahidi said there was “important information” available about the blasts but that it would only be released later, after a proper review and when it is verified, according to the report.
The head of Iran’s judiciary, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, said that “the agents and perpetrators of this grievous crime will undoubtedly be punished,” Al Jazeera reported in an English translation of a statement he released. “Responsible intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies are obligated to promptly pursue all the evidence and perpetrators and hand them over to the Judiciary,” he said.
Iran has in the past blamed Israel for attacks that were apparently carried out by domestic armed groups.
“There is no way that Israel would have carried out an attack like this. The attacks [in Iran] that are always blamed on Israel [by the Iranians] are surgical actions in which citizens are not hurt,” Yaron Bloom, a former senior Shin Bet officer, said on Channel 12 news. “This is an attack characteristic of Islamic State.”
Iran’s intelligence ministry claimed in July that it had disbanded a major network allegedly sponsored by Israel’s Mossad spy agency, which it claimed was planning to blow up Soleimani’s tomb. Iran frequently claims to arrest, and execute, individuals it says — without evidence — are involved in Israeli plots.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said last week that Hamas’s devastating October 7 attack on Israel was in revenge for the killing of Soleimani, a claim swiftly denied by the Gaza-based terror group.
In remarks made by IRGC spokesman Ramazan Sharif about the killing of another top officer in an airstrike Iran has blamed on Israel — Brig. Gen. Razi Mousavi, who was close to Soleimani and was killed in a strike on his home in Damascus — he tied the October 7 massacres to Soleimani.
Mousavi was responsible for coordinating the military alliance between Iran and Syria and was believed by Israel to have been heavily involved in Tehran’s efforts to supply weapons to terror proxies in the area, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.
On October 7, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip and rampaged murderously through southern Israeli communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians slaughtered amid brutal atrocities. At least 240 people were abducted as hostages into Gaza.
Israel has responded with a military campaign aimed at destroying Hamas, removing it from power, and releasing the 133 remaining hostages. At the same time, Iran-backed Hezbollah has attacked along the northern border, hitting military posts and communities, and firing rockets into northern Israel. It says the action is to support Hamas.
And on Tuesday evening, Hamas’s deputy leader abroad Saleh al-Arouri, wanted for years by Israel and seen as the group’s prime orchestrator of West Bank terrorism, was killed in an alleged Israeli strike in the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh, officials with Hamas and Hezbollah said.
Hamas confirmed that seven people in total were killed in the explosion — the others besides Arouri were identified as military commanders Samir Findi and Azzam Al-Aqraa, along with Hamas figures Mahmoud Shaheen, Muhammad Bashasha, Muhammad al-Rayes and Ahmed Hammoud.
According to reports, Findi oversaw Hamas military activities in Lebanon — including the firing of rockets at Israel — and was considered the terror group’s point man with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Al-Aqraa reportedly orchestrated terror activities in the West Bank from overseas.