Islamic State claims Iran suicide bombings that killed 84

Published January 4, 2024
An Iranian youth flashes the sign of victory and holds a portrait of slain top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani during the commemoration ceremony marking the anniversary of his killing in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 3. — AFP
An Iranian youth flashes the sign of victory and holds a portrait of slain top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani during the commemoration ceremony marking the anniversary of his killing in the Iranian capital Tehran on January 3. — AFP

The militant Islamic State (IS) group said on Thursday that it carried out twin bombings which killed at least 84 people at a memorial ceremony in Iran for slain Revolutionary Guards general Qasem Soleimani.

The claim from IS came as Iran observed a day of national mourning for those killed in Wednesday’s blasts.

In a statement on Telegram, IS said two of its members “activated their explosives vests” among the crowds who had come to honour Soleimani on the anniversary of his death in a targeted US drone strike in Baghdad four years ago.

Iranian investigators had already confirmed that the first blast at least was the work of a “suicide bomber” and believed the trigger for the second was “very probably another suicide bomber”, the official IRNA news agency reported earlier, citing an “informed source”.

Soleimani, who headed the Guards’ foreign operations arm the Quds Force, was a staunch enemy of IS, an extremist group which has carried out previous attacks in Iran.

The death toll was revised down from around 100 the day after what Iranian authorities labelled a “terrorist attack” that also wounded hundreds near Soleimani’s tomb in the southern city of Kerman.

Iran has suffered deadly attacks in the past from militants as well as targeted killings of officials and nuclear scientists blamed on arch-foe Israel.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi spoke to the ISNA news agency about bolstering security over its porous borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.

He said authorities have identified “priority points to block along the border” with the two countries, which has long been a key access point for militant groups, drug smugglers and irregular migrants.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday blamed “evil and criminal enemies” of the Islamic republic, without naming them, and vowed a “harsh response”.

Regional tensions have surged amid Gaza’s bombardment sparked when Hamas launched its October 7 surprise attack on Israel, which Tehran welcomed while denying any involvement.

President Ebrahim Raisi’s political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi, charged on social media platform X that “the responsibility for this crime lies with the US and Zionist (Israeli) regimes, and terrorism is just a tool.”

The United States rejected any suggestion that it or its ally Israel were behind the deadly blasts, while Israel declined to comment.

“The United States was not involved in any way, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

“We have no reason to believe that Israel was involved in this explosion,” he added, expressing sympathies to the victims of the “horrific” explosions and their families.

‘Desperate enemy’

Regional tensions have surged amid Gaza’s bombardment, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Hamas fighters infiltrated Israel on October 7, killing around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

In response, Israel launched a relentless offensive that has reduced vast swathes of Gaza to rubble and claimed over 22,400 lives, according to the health ministry in the Gaza territory.

Iranian authorities called for mass protests over the Kerman blasts after weekly prayers on Friday, the day when local officials also said the victims’ funerals will be held.

Revising the death toll, Vahidi cited forensic data and said: “The number of martyrs […] has been announced as 84 so far,” official news agency IRNA reported.

Iran’s emergency services chief Jafar Miadfar pointed to difficulties identifying dismembered bodies and said some victims were mistakenly counted “several times”.

He said 284 people were wounded and “195 are still hospitalised”.

Revered by many Iranians, Soleimani oversaw military operations across the Middle East, and millions came to his funeral in 2020.

Current Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani suggested the Kerman crowd was “attacked by bloodthirsty people supplied by the United States and the Zionist regime”.

He pointed to two recent killings widely blamed on Israel — a Beirut strike on Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri, and the killing near Damascus of senior Guards commander Razi Moussavi in December.

“The killing of Aruri and people like Razi Moussavi and the crime in Kerman show how desperate the enemy is,” Qaani said.

Tehran regularly accuses its arch-foes Israel and the United States of inciting unrest in the country, and authorities last month executed five people convicted of collaborating with Israel.

In July, Iran’s intelligence ministry said it had disbanded a network “linked to Israel’s spy organisation” that it said had been plotting “terrorist operations” across Iran, IRNA reported.

In September, the Fars news agency had reported that an IS-affiliated key “operative”, in charge of carrying out “terrorist operations” in Iran, were arrested in Kerman.

Meanwhile, condolences continued on Thursday as caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said that he spoke with his Iranian counterpart and assured him that Pakistan stood in solidarity with Iran.

“Terrorism is a common threat which must be countered by effective measures,” he said in a post on his X account.

Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha extended condolences over the death of people and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

“The OIC renews its solidarity with the Islamic Republic of Iran in this tragic event,” a statement from the OIC said.

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell also offered his condolences, describing the incident as a “terrorist attack”.

Borrell spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian “to convey condolences following the horrific bombings today in Kerman that killed dozens of civilians”, the EU’s foreign policy chief said on social media.

“I condemned this terrorist attack in the strongest terms and expressed solidarity with the Iranian people,” Borrell added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered his condolences as well over the blasts, telling his counterpart Ebrahim Raisi that he was “shocked” by the incidents.

In a message to Raisi, Xi said he was “shocked to learn of the serious terrorist attack in Iran’s Kerman province, which resulted in heavy casualties”, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

“On behalf of the Chinese government and people, I would like to express our deep condolences to the victims and our sincere sympathy to the injured and the families of the victims,” he was reported as saying.

Xi “stressed that the Chinese side opposes all forms of terrorism, strongly condemns terrorist attacks and firmly supports Iran’s efforts to maintain national security and stability”, according to CCTV.

Additional input from APP.



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