NEW DELHI, Jan 3: At least 103 people were killed and over 170 wounded in Iran as two bombs exploded in quick succession striking a crowd commemorating slain general Qasem Soleimani on the fourth anniversary of his killing on Wednesday.
The blasts, which state television called a “terrorist attack”, came with tensions running high in West Asia a day after Hamas number two Saleh al-Aruori — an Iran ally — was killed in a Beirut drone strike 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 mourn his death in a US drone strike just outside Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Kerman’s deputy governor said the explosions were a “terrorist attack.” At least 170 people were also wounded in the bombings, state media said. 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 Kerman mayor Saeed Tabrizi said the bombs exploded 10 minutes apart. Online footage showed crowds scrambling to flee as security personnel cordoned off the area. Pointing out that the number of injured could be very high Reza Fallah, head of the Kerman province Red Crescent, said, “Our rapid response teams are evacuating the injured… But there are waves of crowds blocking roads.”
“Huge explosion heard near Saheb al-Zaman Mosque” where the head of foreign operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is buried in Kerman in southern Iran, local media reported and added shortly afterwards, “A second explosion was heard near Saheb al-Zaman Mosque.”
Iranian state TV reported that explosions were heard near Qasem Soleimani’s burial place but gave no details on what caused the explosion. Several people were injured in a stampede after the explosions, it reported as the live broadcast showed thousands of mourners participating in the death anniversary. Ambulances were also seen on site.
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 Islamic State jihadist 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 U.S. 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 percent, ahead of then-president Hassan Rouhani and then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.