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'Attackers will face harsh response', Iran leader as twin bomb explosions kill 93 people

No one immediately claimed responsibility for what appeared to be the deadliest militant attack to target Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution but Iran's leaders vowed to punish those responsible for the attack.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Tehran Updated on: January 04, 2024 13:13 IST
Aftermath of the twin blasts that rocked Iran
Image Source : AP Aftermath of the twin blasts that rocked Iran

After twin bomb explosions killed at least 95 people on Wednesday at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain by the US in a 2020 drone strike, Iranian officials said, as the Middle East remains on edge over Israel's war with Hamas in Gaza.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for what appeared to be the deadliest militant attack to target Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran's leaders vowed to punish those responsible for the blasts, which wounded at least 211 people.

The blasts were minutes apart and shook the city of Kerman, about 820 kilometres southeast of the capital, Tehran. The second blast sprayed shrapnel into a screaming crowd fleeing the first explosion.

Iran Officials lower death toll

An earlier death toll of 103 was revised lower after officials realised that some names had been repeated on a list of victims, Iran's health minister, Bahram Einollahi, told state television. Many of the wounded were in critical condition, however, so the death toll could rise.

The gathering marked the fourth anniversary of the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, in a US drone strike in Iraq. The explosions occurred near his gravesite as long lines of people gathered for the event.

Iranian state television and officials described the attacks as bombings, without immediately giving clear details of what happened.

The attacks came a day after a deputy head of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Beirut.

The first bomb on Wednesday was detonated around 3 pm, and the other went off some 20 minutes later, the Iranian interior minister, Ahmad Vahidi, told state television. He said the second blast killed and wounded the most people.

Images and video shared on social media appeared to correspond with the accounts of officials, who said the first blast happened about 700 metres from Soleimani's grave in the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery near a parking lot.

The crowd then rushed west along Shohada Street, where the second blast struck about 1 kilometre from the grave. A delayed second explosion is often used by militants to inflict more casualties by targeting emergency personnel responding to an attack.

Iranian state television and state-run IRNA news agency quoted emergency officials for the casualty figures. Authorities said Thursday would be a national day of mourning.

Khamenei says attackers will face harsh response 

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the attackers would face "a harsh response", though he did not name any possible suspect. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi added: "Undoubtedly, the perpetrators and leaders of this cowardly act will soon be identified and punished."

Iran has multiple foes who could be behind the assault, including exile groups, militant organisations and state actors. While Israel has carried out attacks in Iran over its nuclear programme, it has conducted targeted assassinations, not mass casualty bombings.

Who is responsible?

A US State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said American officials had "no reason" to believe Israel was involved in Wednesday's attack in Iran.

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.

Iran itself has been arming militant groups over the decades, including Hamas, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

As Israel wages its devastating war in Gaza after Hamas' October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, both Hezbollah and the Houthis have launched attacks targeting Israel that they say come on behalf of the Palestinians.

Is Israel behind the recent attack?

Israel is suspected of launching the attack on Tuesday that killed a deputy head of Hamas in Beirut, but that attack caused limited casualties in a densely populated neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital. Last week, a suspected Israeli strike killed a Revolutionary Guard commander in Syria.

A Houthi spokesman, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, sought to link the bombings to Iran's "support for the resistance forces in Palestine and Lebanon", though he did not specifically blame anyone for the attack.

In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the people who died in the attacks "martyrs who died on the same road, cause and battle that was led by" Soleimani.

The government of neighbouring Iraq expressed condolences to the victims, and the European Union issued a statement offering its "solidarity with the Iranian people".

Who was Qaseem Soleimani

Soleimani was the architect of Iran's regional military activities and is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran's theocracy. He also helped secure Syrian President Bashar Assad's government after the 2011 Arab Spring protests against him turned into a civil, and later a regional, war that still rages today.

Soleimani had been relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. His popularity and mystique grew after American officials called for his killing over his help in arming militants with penetrating roadside bombs that killed and maimed US troops.

A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran's most recognisable battlefield commander. He ignored calls to enter politics but grew as powerful, if not more so, than its civilian leadership.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Qassem Soleimani: A top Iranian military officer who is still a 'star' even after 4 years of his assassination

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