TEHRAN, Iran — A statue erected to honor slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani has been torched by unknown assailants hours after it was unveiled, Iranian media reported Thursday.
Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was killed on January 3, 2020 in Iraq in a United States drone strike at Baghdad airport along with his Iraqi lieutenant and others.
On Wednesday morning, a statue to honor him was unveiled in the southwestern Iranian city of Shahrekord.
But in the evening it was set on fire, ISNA news agency said, calling it a “shameful act by unknown individuals.”
“This treacherous crime was carried out in darkness, just like the other crime committed at night at Baghdad airport,” when Soleimani was killed, senior Muslim cleric Mohammad Ali Nekounam said in a statement carried by ISNA.
Iranian authorities have unveiled several sculptures dedicated to Soleimani since his assassination two years ago, and portraits of the revered commander dot the landscape across Iran.
#ResistanceUnits in the city of Shahrekord (population over 200K) in central #Iran torched the statue of terror master Qassem #Soleimani this evening, only hours after it was unveiled in the first square of the city. #IranProtests continue. pic.twitter.com/hh5VQ3Qj4Y
— Alireza Jafarzadeh (@A_Jafarzadeh) January 5, 2022
State broadcaster IRIB condemned the latest attack as an “insulting” act, that comes as Iran marks the second anniversary of Soleimani’s killing, with several events in recent days.
The exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said “resistance units” were behind the attack and called Soleimani a “mass murderer,” the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
The NCRI is the political wing of the People’s Mujahedin (MEK), which is banned in Iran and seeks the “overthrow” of Iran’s clerical leadership. It accuses Iran’s ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi of being responsible for the mass executions of thousands of its members in 1988.
— Ali Safavi (@amsafavi) January 6, 2022
On Thursday, thousands of Iranians also paid tribute to 250 “unknown martyrs” killed in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
Ceremonies were held across the country, AFP reporters and state media reported.
“We are always suffering from the loss of martyrs, like Hajj Qassem [Soleimani], because they all fought on the frontlines with their heart,” Ali Asghar, a mourner in Tehran, said.