More than 100 people killed in twin blasts near slain Iran commander’s grave

Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (C) attends Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's (not seen) meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Tehran, Iran on September 18, 2016.

Soleimani was killed in a US airstrike in January 2020.Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesCNN — 

At least 103 people were killed Wednesday and 188 injured in the Iranian city of Kerman after twin blasts near the burial site of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani, in what officials called a terror attack.

The blasts, at least one of which was caused by a bomb, state TV said, came on the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s death in a US air strike, and threatens to accelerate tensions in the region that have spiked since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The first explosion was 2,300 feet (700 meters) from Soleimani’s grave, and the second was 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) away as pilgrims visited the site, IRNA added.

Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike ordered by former President Donald Trump at Baghdad International Airport four years ago Wednesday.

IRINN, another state television channel, reported that the first explosion near the grave of Soleimani was caused by a bomb placed in a suitcase inside a Peugeot 405 car, and appeared to be detonated remotely.

Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said the first explosion happened at 3:00 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) during an interview with Iran’s state news channel IRIB. Vahidi said the second, more deadly blast took place 20 minutes later, when other pilgrims came to help the injured.

People take care of injured after an explosion in Kerman, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024. Explosions at an event honoring a prominent Iranian general slain in a U.S. airstrike in 2020 have killed at least 73 people and wounded over 170 others, state-run media in Iran reported Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mahdi Karbakhsh Ravari)

The two blasts took place around 20 minutes apart, Iran’s interior minister said.Mahdi Karbakhsh Ravari/AP

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Iran will have a “harsh response.” Addressing those behind the explosions, he wrote: “They should know that the bright soldiers of the path of Soleimani will not tolerate their wickedness and crimes.”

A senior US administration official told reporters that the blasts in Iran “look like a terrorist attack” and the kind ISIS has carried out in the past.

“I think it’s just based on the MO it does look like a terrorist attack, the type of thing we’ve seen ISIS do in the past. And as far as we’re aware, that’s kind of I think our going assumption at the moment,” the official said.

US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said at a press briefing that the US does not “have any independent information” about the explosions, and that the State Department has “no reason to believe that Israel was involved.”

Videos posted on Iranian state media showed large crowds running in the area after the explosion.

Footage also showed bloodied bodies being transported from the scene, and ambulances leaving the site through large crowds.

Iran declared Thursday a day of mourning following the blasts. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi canceled his upcoming trip to Turkey in the aftermath of the explosion.

Formerly one of Iran’s most powerful men, Soleimani was head of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Iran’s overseas operations and was deemed to be a foreign terrorist organization by the US.

Ambulances leave the site of explosion near the grave of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in southern Iran, on January 3.

Ambulances leave the site of the explosion.Iran Press via AFPTV

The Pentagon says Soleimani and his troops were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

Known as Iran’s “shadow commander,” Soleimani – who had led the Quds Force since 1998 – was the mastermind of Iranian military operations in Iraq and Syria.

General Ismail Qaani, Soleimani’s longtime lieutenant and his successor as the leader of the Quds Force, said the perpetrators were “desperate,” warning that “the Islamic Republic will not change the method of eradicating the Zionist regime.”

Blast comes at tense moment in region

The blast occurred amid heightened tensions in the region as Israel fights a three-month war against Hamas in Gaza prompted by the militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.

That war has left more than 23,000 people dead in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in the enclave, and has led to skirmishes beyond Israel and Gaza, often involving Iran-backed militias.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader was killed in a suburb of Beirut in a blast that a US official told CNN was carried out by Israel. Israel hasn’t confirmed or denied involvement but Hamas and the militant group Hezbollah, which controls the suburb, blamed Israel and have vowed revenge.

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Last week, Iran and several of its armed proxies accused Israel of assassinating a senior Iranian commander in Syria, vowing retaliation. Israel didn’t comment on the matter.

In an address marking the anniversary of Soleimani’s death, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the killing of the Hamas official in Beirut “won’t go unpunished.”

Israel accuses Tehran of funding and arming Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said last month that his country is in a “multi-arena war,” being attacked from seven arenas, including Iran. “We have already responded and acted in six of these decrees” he said.

On Wednesday, Russian President Putin condemned “terrorism in all its forms” in a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi after the blasts. Putin, who is the subject of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, has been accused by Kyiv and international bodies of numerous acts of terror during his war in Ukraine.

The United States has also stepped up its military involvement in the Middle East recently. Last month, the military carried out airstrikes on Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah and “affiliated groups” in Iraq after an attack injured three US troops.

And last week, US helicopters sank three boats belonging to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea after coming under fire, killing those on board. The event marked the first time since tensions broke out earlier last year that the US killed members of the rebel group.

The White House said it wasn’t seeking a wider conflict. The Houthis have carried out several attacks on merchant vessels in the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel’s assault on Hamas, disrupting trade in one of the world’s most important waterways.

Both the European Union and the United Nations chief Antonio Guterres condemned Wednesday’s blasts and called for the perpetrators to be held responsible.

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