Nearly 100 killed in ‘terrorist attack’ near grave of Iran’s Qassem Soleimani

Iran’s supreme leader vowed a “harsh response” to those behind the blasts.

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A “terrorist attack” on Wednesday killed almost 100 people and wounded more than 200 others near a cemetery in the Iranian city of Kerman where slain commander Qassem Soleimani is buried, state media reported.

Iranian news agencies reported that two explosions occurred in close succession during a ceremony where crowds had gathered in Soleimani’s hometown to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his killing.

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Iran’s health minister told state TV that the death toll stood at 95, correcting earlier reports that had initially indicated 103 fatalities. He added that 211 others were wounded.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency, citing an “informed source,” reported that initial investigations indicate that there were two explosive devices near the cemetery, both of which the “terrorists” detonated using remote control.

No group has claimed responsibility for the incident, and Iran has not yet officially attributed blame to any side. However, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, claimed those behind the bomb blasts were backed by the US and Israel.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington was not involved in any way in the explosions, adding that the US had no reason to believe Israel was involved either.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said those responsible for the blasts will receive a “harsh response.” President Ebrahim Raisi said Iranian security services will “soon identify and punish the perpetrators of this cowardly act.” Neither Khamenei nor Raisi pointed the finger at any specific party in their statements.

Iran declared Thursday a day of mourning following the deadly explosions.

Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (AFP)
Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani, in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 3, 2024. (AFP)

Soleimani, who for over two decades headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq in January 2020.

He was widely regarded as the most powerful figure in the Islamic Republic after Khamenei. Tehran has consistently pledged to avenge his death.

Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that the initial explosion took place at 3:00 p.m. local time, with a subsequent explosion occurring after people had assembled to assist in the aftermath of the first incident.

The majority of casualties resulted from the second explosion, he added.

“This terrorist act will be met with a powerful and crushing response from the security and military apparatuses in the shortest possible time,” said Vahidi.

According to IRNA, the first explosion occurred approximately 700 meters from Soleimani’s grave, while the second was about one kilometer away.

Footage shared by state media showed crowds later returning to the cemetery in Kerman, located about 820 kilometers (510 miles) southeast of the capital Tehran. They were heard chanting “death to Israel” and “death to America.”

People stay next to destroyed cars after an explosion in Kerman, Iran, January 3, 2024. (Tasnim News Agency via AP)
People stay next to destroyed cars after an explosion in Kerman, Iran, January 3, 2024. (Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Wednesday’s bomb blasts mark Iran’s deadliest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. They come amid heightened tensions in the region, with Iran and several Tehran-backed militant groups facing off against Israel and the US on several fronts since the outbreak of war between Israel and the Iran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7.

On Tuesday, senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a drone strike on a Beirut southern suburb which Lebanese officials blamed on Israel.

Last week, the IRGC said one of its top commanders, Seyed Razi Mousavi, was killed in an Israeli strike in Syria.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group has been exchanging near-daily border fire with Israel since October 7.

US forces in Syria and Iraq have been targeted more than 100 times since October by Iran-backed militants over Washington’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas.

And in the Red Sea, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia has been attacking ships it says are either linked to Israel or heading to Israeli ports.

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Iran’s IRGC retracts statement on Oct. 7 attacks after rare public spat with Hamas

Who was Saleh al-Arouri, the senior Hamas official assassinated in Beirut?

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