Iran says at least 103 people killed, 211 wounded in bombing at Kerman, ceremony honoring slain general
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two bombs exploded minutes apart Wednesday at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain in a U.S. drone strike in 2020, officials in Iran said, killing at least 103 people and wounding at least 211 as the Middle East remains on edge over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for what appeared to be the deadliest militant attack to target Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. The blasts shook the city of Kerman, about 820 kilometers (510 miles) southeast of the capital, Tehran, and sent shrapnel hurtling into a screaming crowd fleeing the first explosion.
The gathering marked the fourth anniversary of the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in January 2020. The explosions occurred near his grave site as long lines of people gathered for the event.
Iranian state television and officials described the attacks as bombings, without immediately giving clear details of what happened. Ahmad Vahidi, the interior minister, told state television that the first bomb detonated around 3 p.m., with the other going off some 20 minutes later. He said the second blast killed and wounded the most people.
Images and video shared on social media appeared to correspond with officials’ accounts, which said the first blast happened about 700 meters (765 yards) from Soleimani’s grave in the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery near a parking lot. The crowd then rushed west along Shohada, or Martyrs, Street, where the second blast struck about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) from the grave.
A delayed second explosion is often used by militants to target emergency personnel responding to the scene and inflict more casualties.
Iranian state TV and state-run IRNA news agency quoted emergency officials for the casualty figures, which rose rapidly in the hours after the explosions. Authorities declared Thursday would be a national day of mourning.
Iran has multiple foes who could be behind the assault, including exile groups, militant organizations and state actors.
While Israel has carried out attacks in Iran over its nuclear program, it has conducted targeted assassinations, not mass casualty bombings. Sunni extremist groups including the Islamic State group have conducted large-scale attacks in the past that killed civilians in Shiite-majority Iran, though not in relatively peaceful Kerman.
Iran also has seen mass protests in recent years, including those over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022. The country also has been targeted by exile groups in attacks dating back to the turmoil surrounding its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Deadly blasts at commemoration for slain Iranian general
Iran itself has been arming militant groups over the decades, including Hamas, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels. As Israel wages its devastating war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel and saw over 200 others taken hostage, both Hezbollah and the Houthis have launched attacks targeting Israel that they say come on behalf of the Palestinians.
Israel is suspected of launching an attack Tuesday that killed a deputy head of Hamas in Beirut, but that attack saw limited casualties in a densely populated neighborhood of the Lebanese capital.
Mohammed Abdel-Salam, a Houthi spokesman, sought to link the bombings to Iran’s “support for the resistance forces in Palestine and Lebanon.”
“All attempts by America and Israel to destabilize Iran’s security will fail,” Abdel-Salam wrote online, though he did not specifically blame anyone for the attack.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also offered his condolences over the “heinous terrorist attacks.” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had been expected to visit Turkey on Thursday.
Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s regional military activities and is hailed as a national icon among supporters of Iran’s theocracy. He also helped secure Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government after the 2011 Arab Spring protests against him turned into a civil, and later a regional, war that still rages today.
Relatively unknown in Iran until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Soleimani’s popularity and mystique grew after American officials called for his killing over his help arming militants with penetrating roadside bombs that killed and maimed U.S. troops.
A decade and a half later, Soleimani had become Iran’s most recognizable battlefield commander, ignoring calls to enter politics but growing as powerful, if not more, than its civilian leadership.
Ultimately, a drone strike launched by the Trump administration killed the general, part of escalating incidents that followed America’s 2018 unilateral withdrawal from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey; and Jack Jeffrey in London contributed to this report.