Blasts kill over 100 at ceremony to mark death of Iranian Guards commander

Published January 3, 2024
People gather at the scene of explosions during a ceremony held to mark the death of late Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, in Kerman, Iran, January 3. — Reuters
People gather at the scene of explosions during a ceremony held to mark the death of late Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, in Kerman, Iran, January 3. — Reuters
People disperse near the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3. — AFP
People disperse near the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Guards general Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on January 3. — AFP

At least 103 people were killed in Iran Wednesday as two bombs in quick succession struck a crowd commemorating slain general Qasem Soleimani on the anniversary of his killing, state media reported.

The blasts, which state television called a “terrorist attack”, came with tensions running high in the Middle East a day after Hamas number two Saleh al-Aruri — an Iran ally — was killed in a drone attack on a Beirut southern suburb which Lebanese officials blamed on Israel.

The blasts stuck near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in Kerman, Soleimani’s southern hometown where he is buried, as supporters gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of his killing in a US drone strike just outside Baghdad airport.

Kerman’s deputy governor, Rahman Jalali, said the explosions were a “terrorist attack”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

“The number of people killed rose to 103 following the death of people injured during the terrorist explosions,” said the official IRNA news agency, which earlier reported 73 deaths.

Another 141 people were wounded in the bombings, IRNA said, adding that some were in “critical condition”.

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, quoting informed sources, said “two bags carrying bombs went off” at the site.

“The perpetrators … of this incident apparently detonated the bombs by remote control,” Tasnim added.

The ISNA news agency quoted Kerman mayor Saeed Tabrizi as saying the bombs exploded 10 minutes apart.

“We were walking towards the cemetery when a car suddenly stopped behind us and a waste bin containing a bomb exploded,” an eyewitness was quoted by ISNA as saying.

“We only heard the sound of the explosion and saw people falling. There was a bomb in the trash can,” the witness added.

Online footage showed crowds scrambling to flee as security personnel cordoned off the area.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed a “harsh response” after the twin blasts.

“The evil and criminal enemies of the Iranian nation once again created a disaster and martyred a large number of dear people in Kerman,” said Khamenei in a statement.

“This disaster will have a harsh response, God willing. “

Deadly adversary

Images on state television showed several ambulances and rescue personnel in the area.

Among the 73 killed were three paramedics who were dispatched to the area following the first explosion, according to Iran’s Red Crescent.

Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, overseeing military operations across the Middle East.

Declared a “living martyr” by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while still alive, Soleimani was widely regarded as a hero for his role in defeating the militant Islamic State group in both Iraq and Syria.

In the eyes of many Iranians, his military and strategic prowess were instrumental in warding off the multi-ethnic disintegration of neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan as well as Syria and Iraq.

Long seen as a deadly adversary by the US and its allies, Soleimani was one of the most important powerbrokers across the region, setting Iran’s political and military agenda in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

On days after his death in 2020 and leading up to his funeral in Kerman, millions turned out to mourn in a show of national unity.

A survey published in 2018 by IranPoll and the University of Maryland found Soleimani had a popularity rating in Iran of 83 per cent, ahead of then-president Hassan Rouhani and then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

‘Inhuman terrorist attacks’

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar said Pakistan condemned the “heinous act” and stood in solidarity with Iran. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Iranian Government and people at this difficult time,” he said.

Interim Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani condemned the “inhuman terrorist attacks” and extended Pakistan’s condolences to the Iranian people.

Condemning the “dastardly terrorist attack”, the Foreign Office said: “Pakistan believes that terrorism is a menace and threat to regional and global peace and security. It needs to be confronted through bilateral and regional cooperation.”

Former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and former president Asif Zardari also condemned the attacks in a joint statement.

“The tragic loss of lives in today’s bombings in the city of Kerman, Iran, is deeply saddening,” said former prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences in a letter to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The killing of peaceful people visiting the cemetery is shocking in its cruelty and cynicism,” Putin said.

A spokesman said United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns” the twin blasts.

“The secretary general strongly condemns the attack today on a memorial ceremony in Kerman city in the Islamic Republic of Iran, which reportedly killed more than 100 people and injured many more,” the spokesman said.


Additional reporting by Abdullah Momand.

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