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At minimum 95 killed in explosions at tribute for senior Iranian general Soleimani

Southern Iran witnessed a tragic incident on Wednesday when two explosions claimed the lives of at least 95 individuals at a commemoration event for a prominent Iranian general who was killed in a U.S. drone attack in 2020, intensifying the tension in an already volatile region.

The initial explosion occurred approximately 2,300 feet from the tomb of Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery, as reported by the semiofficial news agency ISNA. It was followed by another blast about 2,000 feet away.

The responsibility for the blasts remains unclaimed at present, although over 210 individuals suffered injuries, marking one of the most devastating assaults in the history of the Islamic Republic.

According to four current and former U.S. officials, the U.S. does not suspect Israel to be behind the attack. Additionally, two of the officials stated that the U.S. was not involved in the incident either.

Regardless, Iran has attributed the responsibility to Israel, with a senior member of parliament stating that the nature of the explosions indicates a Mossad involvement. Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi has alleged the involvement of American and Israeli operatives.

The earlier reported death toll of approximately 100 people was revised after officials recognized duplicate entries in the count, stated Iran’s health minister, Bahram Einollahi, in an interview with state TV.

Soleimani, who was raised in Kerman, the regional capital of a province with the same name, was assassinated in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq.

Iranian emergency services arrive at the site of the explosions.Mehr News via AFP – Getty Images

At the time of his demise, Soleimani held immense power as the leader of Iran’s covert Quds Force, a division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps entrusted with safeguarding and advancing the country’s interests in nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

Several Iranian officials swiftly condemned the explosions on Wednesday as “terrorist attacks,” but the circumstances surrounding the incident remain uncertain in a country where information is tightly controlled by the ruling theocratic regime.

The semiofficial Fars news agency reported that three policemen were among the fatalities.

Rahman Jalali, Kerman’s deputy governor for security, informed the state-run IRNA news agency that the explosions were “perpetrated by terrorists.” The semiofficial Tasnim news agency stated that the blasts were caused by two suitcases loaded with explosives.

“The Iranian people are in mourning, and numerous families grieve the loss of their loved ones,” stated Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The callous culprits could not tolerate the affection and zeal of the populace to visit the shrine of their esteemed commander Qassem Soleimani.” Khamenei did not explicitly mention the “culprits” in his statement to IRNA.

A U.S. official and counterterrorism expert mentioned that the blasts appeared to be a relatively primitive yet deadly assault, and the possibility of the Islamic State group’s involvement cannot be dismissed given the extended confrontation between the militants and Tehran.

In October 2022, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a shooting at a Shiite shrine in the Iranian city of Shiraz, resulting in the deaths of 15 civilians, as per reports from the Iranian regime. The details of the attack indicate that “the operation was not a state-sanctioned endeavor, as those typically avoid civilian casualties and target specific individuals or facilities,” noted Norman Roule, a former Central Intelligence Agency official.

“Instead, the perpetrators of this operation exhibited unsophisticated tactics, lacked the capability to place explosives in close proximity to the ceremony, and intended to inflict maximum civilian casualties,” Roule added. He also proposed that the Islamic State’s Wilayet Khorasan or the Baluch group Jaish al-Adl may be behind the attack.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2016.Anadolu Agency / via Getty Images file

Since his demise, Iranians have gathered at the cemetery every year to honor Soleimani, whose assassination was ordered by then-President Donald Trump, leading to furious protests in Iran and Iraq with many demanding retribution against the U.S.

It remains ambiguous whether the explosions on Wednesday are linked to the Israel-Hamas conflict, but they coincide with heightened tensions throughout the Middle East.

Reported drone strikes resulting in the death of Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri in Beirut on Tuesday have raised concerns about broader regional escalation as Israel and other entities confront Iran-backed groups.

Hamas leader Al-Arouri, who served as the commander of Hamas’ military wing in the occupied West Bank and held the position of deputy chairman of the group’s political bureau, had played a crucial role in restoring Hamas’ alliance with Iran. He had previously been a target of Israel’s operations.

Hamas and the militant organization Hezbollah in Lebanon attributed the strike to Israel, although Israeli authorities declined to comment.

Hamas condemned the bombings in Iran as a “criminal attack in the city of Kerman.”

While Israel has a historical record of pursuing its adversaries, including leaders of Hamas, in activities often leading to conflicts and confrontations with Iran, it has not been associated with mass casualty bombings.

Iran has been rocked by significant protests in recent years, including those triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022, and has been subjected to attacks by dissident groups since the upheaval surrounding the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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