Kerman: People gather at the scene of explosions during a ceremony held to mark the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, on Wednesday.—Reuters
Kerman: People gather at the scene of explosions during a ceremony held to mark the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, on Wednesday.—Reuters

• Khamenei vows ‘harsh response’ to bombings
• Miller says US, Israel not behind blast
• EU condemns ‘act of terror’, demands perpetrators be brought to justice
• PM Kakar expresses grief over the incident

TEHRAN: Twin bomb blasts killed at least 103 people in Iran on Wednesday, ripping through a crowd commemorating Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani four years after his death in a US strike, state media reported.

The two explosions — unc­l­a­imed but labelled a “terrorist attack” by state media and regional authorities — came amid high Middle East tensions over the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the killing of a Hamas senior leader in Lebanon on Tuesday.

The blasts, about 15 minutes apart, struck near the Martyrs Cemetery at the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in Kerman, Soleimani’s southern hometown, as supporters gathered to mark his killing in a US drone strike.

“The number of people killed rose to 103 following the deaths of people injured during the terrorist explosions,” said the official IRNA news agency, while state television reported 211 wounded, some in critical condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombings.

The US rejected any suggestion that it or Israel was behind the deadly blasts. “The United States was not involved in any way, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “We have no reason to believe Israel was involved in this explosion,” he said.

However, Miller declined to assess who carried out the attack in Iran.

Among those killed in the twin blasts were three paramedics who rushed to the scene after the first explosion, said Iran’s Red Crescent. IRNA said the first explosion took place around 700 metres from Soleimani’s grave while the other was around one kilometre away. Tasnim news agency, quoting sources, said “two bags carrying bombs went off” and “the perpetrators... apparently detonated the bombs by remote control”.

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

State television showed bloodied victims lying on the ground and ambulances and rescue personnel racing to help them.

“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 saying by the ISNA news agency. “We only heard the explosion and saw people falling.”

‘Harsh response’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday vowed a “harsh response” after the 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,” he said in a statement. “This disaster will have a harsh response, God willing.”

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the “heinous” crime as the Islamic Republic of Iran declared Thursday a national day of mourning.

The European Union has also demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

“The EU condemns in the strongest terms today’s bombing in the city of Kerman in Iran. The EU expresses its solidarity with the Iranian people. This act of terror has exacted a shocking toll of civilian deaths and injuries,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.

PM Kakar expresses grief

Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar also expressed grief over the incident. “Deeply saddened to learn about the huge loss of lives in terrorist attacks in Kerman. Pakistan condemns this heinous act and stands in solidarity with Iran. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Iranian government and people at this difficult time,” he tweeted.

‘Shocking cruelty’

By nightfall, crowds returned to the Martyrs Cemetery in Kerman chanting: “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.

In Tehran, thousands gathered at the Grand Mosalla Mosque to pay tribute to Soleimani.

“We condemn today’s bitter terrorist incident... I hope the perpetrators of the crime will be identified and punished for their actions,” Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, said.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences over Wednesday’s twin blasts. “The killing of peaceful people visiting the cemetery is shocking in its cruelty and cynicism,” Putin wrote to Raisi and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Published in Dawn, January 4th, 2024

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