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Iran mosque toll rises to 12 killed, 200 wounded

Officials differ on whether accident or attack

Published:

Twelve people were killed and at least 202 wounded when an explosion ripped through a packed mosque in Iran's southern city of Shiraz during prayers by a prominent cleric, officials said on Sunday.

Uncertainty surrounded the cause of Saturday evening's blast, which some officials insisted was an accident but others said could have been caused by a bomb.

The massive explosion in the men's section of the mosque took place at around 9 p.m. (1630 GMT) during an evening prayer sermon by prominent local cleric Mohammad Anjavinejad, Iranian media reported.

Twelve people were killed and 202 wounded, the governor of the local Fars province, whose name was given as Rezazadeh, told state television.

"The incident could have happened as a result of negligence. A while ago at this site there was an exhibition commemorating the (1980-1988) Iran-Iraq war," provincial police chief Commander Ali Moayeri told the Fars news agency.

"The munitions left at the site could have caused this explosion," he added. The agency said he ruled out an act of sabotage.

Television pictures showed shards of glass and piles of debris inside the mosque and huge crowds gathered to await news of loved ones. Casualties, their clothes soaked with blood, filled local hospitals.

"Last night's incident... was definitely an accident. We are studying the cause, but as of now but main reason is not clear," Deputy Interior Minister Abbas Mohtaj told the Mehr news agency.

Possible Attack

Other sources indicated that the possibility of a militant attack had not been ruled out, however.

"A judicial probe has been launched to determine the cause of the explosion and the possibility of sabotage," Shiraz prosecutor Jaber Baneshi told IRNA.

Shiraz MP Mohammad Nabi Roodaki said the explosion could have been caused by unknown people deliberately setting off the munitions used in the Iraq war exhibition, the student ISNA news agency reported.

Anjavinejad himself cast doubt on the accident theory, saying that the force of the blast and the presence of an individual who planted a package before his sermon suggested otherwise.

"Some parties are trying to show this was an accident to portray the city as safe. But it is their duty to implement security," he told the Alef news website.

One of Iran's most famous cities, Shiraz is popular with foreign tourists because of its proximity to important ancient sites from the Achaemenian Empire that ruled much of Asia from 550-331 BC.

There have been deadly attacks in Iran's border cities with ethnic minority populations in recent years, but a strike in a non-frontier city such as Shiraz would be unprecedented.