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Friday, June 21, 2024

MORE THAN 100 KILLED IN ‘TERRORIST ATTACKS’ NEAR TOMB OF IRANIAN GUARDS’ SOLEIMANI

Date:

DUBAI, (REUTERS) – Two explosions killed more than 100 people and wounded scores at a ceremony in Iran on Wednesday to commemorate top commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2020, Iranian officials said, blaming unspecified “terrorists”.

Iranian state television reported a first and then a second blast during a crowded anniversary event at the cemetery where Soleimani is buried in the southeastern city of Kerman.

An unnamed official told state news agency IRNA that “two explosive devices planted along the road leading to Kerman’s Martyrs’ Cemetery were detonated remotely by terrorists”.

State television said that at least 103 people had been killed and 211 others injured, making it one of the worst such attacks in Iran, which has faced similar incidents in the past from various groups, including Islamic State.

No one claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s blasts.

Red Crescent rescuers tended to wounded people at the ceremony, where hundreds of Iranians had gathered to mark the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. Some Iranian news agencies said the number of wounded was much higher.

“I heard a very loud sound and then felt pain in my back … then I could not feel my legs,” a wounded woman at a Kerman hospital told state television.

Reza Fallah, head of the Kerman Red Crescent Society, told state television the huge crowd was making it hard to get the wounded out.

Other videos aired by Iranian media showed dozens of bodies strewn around with some bystanders trying to help survivors and others hurrying to leave the blast area.

“A terrible sound was heard there, despite all the security and safety measures. We are still investigating,” Fallah said.

Later, the state news agency said the cemetery had been evacuated and closed until further notice. The government announced that Thursday would be a day of mourning.

While the authorities have not publicly assigned blame, Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi vowed a strong response.

“Those who committed these crimes should expect a strong and decisive response by Iran’s security forces,” Vahidi told state TV, adding that “everything is under control now and calm has been restored”.

EARLIER ATTACKS

In 2022, the Sunni Muslim militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran which killed 15 people.

Earlier attacks claimed by the group include deadly twin bombings in 2017 which targeted Iran’s parliament and the tomb of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Baluchi militants and ethnic Arab separatists have also staged attacks in Iran.

The U.S. assassination of Soleimani in a drone attack at Baghdad airport and Tehran’s retaliation by attacking two Iraq military bases that house U.S. troops brought the United States and Iran close to full-blown conflict in 2020.

As chief commander of the elite Quds force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Soleimani ran clandestine operations in foreign countries and was a key figure in Iran’s long-standing campaign to drive U.S. forces out of the Middle East.

Tensions between Iran and Israel, along with its ally the United States, have reached a new high over Israel’s war on Iranian-backed Hamas militants in Gaza in retaliation for their Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia have attacked ships they say have links to Israel in the entrance to the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

U.S. forces have come under attack by Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria over Washington’s backing of Israel and have carried out their own retaliatory air strikes.

On Monday an Israeli air strike killed a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria.

Iran has in the past blamed Israel for attacks on individual people or places within its borders – claims which Israel has neither confirmed nor denied – but there was no indication of any involvement of a foreign state in the explosions at Wednesday’s ceremony.

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