Dozens of people have been killed and more than 200 others wounded in explosions near the tomb of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Qassem Soleimani during a ceremony marking four years since his assassination.
Two explosions were heard in the southeastern city of Kerman on Wednesday afternoon near the burial place of Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike, according to Iranian media reports.
Iranian Health Minister Bahram Eynollahi told state TV the death toll was at 95, down from 103, and said 211 others were injured, making it the deadliest attack in the history of the Islamic Republic, which has faced similar incidents in the past from various armed groups, including ISIS.
It was not immediately clear what caused the blasts. Officials have blamed a “terrorist attack”.
Videos showed ambulances arriving at the scene and taking away injured people on stretchers. Kerman is about 820 kilometres (510 miles) southeast of the capital, Tehran.
Among those killed were three paramedics who rushed to the scene after the first explosion, said Iran’s Red Crescent.
Authorities told local media that some of the injured were being treated after being trampled in the pandemonium following the explosions.
“I heard a very loud sound and then felt pain in my back … then I could not feel my legs,” a wounded woman at a Kerman hospital told state television.
“Our rapid response teams are evacuating the injured … But there are waves of crowds blocking roads,” Reza Fallah, head of the Kerman province Red Crescent, told state TV.
Iranian state media says two explosions have struck a procession marking the anniversary of General Qassem Soleimani’s assassination.
The blasts reportedly happened near the slain commander’s gravesite in the city of Kerman. pic.twitter.com/KbgkrewSf8
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 3, 2024
Kerman security chief Rahman Jalali confirmed to state media that “the blasts were caused by terrorist attacks.”
The news agency Tasnim reported that two briefcases loaded with explosives were placed at the entrance of the cemetery and were then detonated remotely.
President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the “heinous” crime as the Islamic Republic of Iran declared Thursday a national day of mourning.
“Undoubtedly, the perpetrators … of this cowardly act will soon be identified and punished for their heinous act by the capable security and law enforcement forces,” said Raisi in a statement.
“The enemies of the nation should know that such actions can never disrupt the solid determination of the Iranian nation.”
Soleimani, previously the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC and a key architect of Iran’s regional influence, was hit by a drone strike claimed by the United States shortly after touching down in Baghdad on January 3, 2020. Then-US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani killed, saying he was planning an “imminent” attack on US military personnel in the Iraqi capital.
The incident comes a day after Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri was killed in a drone attack in Beirut, which Lebanese authorities attributed to Israel. Iran condemned the killing saying it could “ignite another surge in the veins of resistance and the motivation to fight against the Zionist occupiers”.
Last month, an Israeli air raid outside the Syrian capital of Damascus killed Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser in IRGC.
The first explosion took place 700 metres (2,300 feet) from Soleimani’s grave; the second one kilometre (0.62 miles) away, suggesting that the explosive packages did not have to pass any security gates.
Videos have shown the general’s grave untouched, and the locations of the explosions do not appear to have been in the busiest parts of the cemetery.