Blasts near Iranian commander’s grave kill nearly 100

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Iran said two “terrorist attacks” killed more than 100 people near a commander’s grave on Wednesday, according to reports by state media.

Two explosions in the southern city of Kerman hit crowds gathering to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the US killing of Qassem Soleimani, a former Revolutionary Guards commander.

Iranian officials quoted by state television said the blasts killed 103 people and injured 171, making it the biggest attack in the Islamic republic in years.

The blasts came amid high tensions across the Middle East triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel and the Jewish state’s offensive in Gaza.

Tasnim, a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, said two explosive-laden bags were put at the entrance of the cemetery in Kerman on Wednesday and that the perpetrators allegedly detonated the bombs remotely.

Iranian state media and local officials labelled Wednesday’s explosions a terrorist attack but Tehran has not yet blamed a specific group or foreign country.

Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, head of Iran’s judiciary, blamed the killings on “mercenary terrorists” who were “the lackeys” of “arrogant powers”. 

Iran has blamed previous attacks on militant organisations including the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled opposition group once backed by Iraq, as well as separatist groups and Sunni jihadis.

The explosions came a day after Israel carried out the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in southern Lebanon.

Israeli assassinations and espionage in Iran have largely focused on the Islamic Republic’s alleged nuclear weapons programme, most notably that of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading nuclear scientist, in 2020.

Iran has blamed Israel for several attacks since 2010, all involving either engineers or scientists, including a remote controlled bomb on a motorcycle, an explosive attached to a car, and gunmen from passing vehicles. 

Iran says it does not want to be drawn into a broader regional conflict despite its support for Hamas.

Following the recent killing of a senior Revolutionary Guards commander in Syria, which has been blamed on Israel, Iranian officials stated they reserved the right to respond without explicitly committing to escalation.

In one previous attack in Iran, operatives affiliated with the Islamic State claimed responsibility for simultaneous attempts on the parliament building in Tehran and the mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, the republic’s founder, in 2017.

In 2018, gunmen opened fire on a military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, leading to the deaths of dozens of people, including members of the Revolutionary Guards.

Additional reporting by Mehul Srivastava