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Explosions kill dozens at event honouring Iranian general slain by U.S.

Two bombs exploded minutes apart on Wednesday at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain in a U.S. drone strike in 2020, officials in Iran said. The explosions killed at least 95 people and wounded at least 211, as the Middle East remains on edge over Israel's war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Unclear who attacked event for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in 2020 U.S. airstrike

A group of people crowd around a person prone on the ground behind an ambulance with its back doors open.

Two bombs exploded minutes apart on Wednesday at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain in a U.S. drone strike in 2020, officials in Iran said.

The explosions killed at least 95 people and wounded 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 kilometres southeast of the capital, Tehran, and sent shrapnel hurtling into a screaming crowd fleeing the first explosion.

An earlier death toll of 103 was revised lower after officials realized that some names had been repeated on a list of victims, Iran's health minister, Bahram Einollahi, told state TV. Many of the wounded were in critical condition, however, so the death toll could rise.

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 gravesite 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. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi told state television that the first bomb detonated at about 3 p.m. local time, 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 metres 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 one kilometre from the grave.

Many possible culprits

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 the state-run IRNA news agency quoted emergency officials for the casualty figures, which rose rapidly in the hours after the explosions.

Iran has multiple foes who could be behind the assault, including exile groups, militant organizations and state actors.

WATCH | Expert says targeting Soleimani's tomb shows anger:

Targeted bomb attack in Iran shows anger, says expert

11 hours ago

Duration 5:10

Kamran Bokhari, a senior director at the New Lines Institute in Washington, D.C, speaks about the regional fallout of explosions at a commemoration for a prominent Iranian general slain in a U.S. drone strike in 2020.

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 Shia-majority Iran, though not in relatively peaceful Kerman.

The United States "was not involved in any way," according to the U.S. State Department.

"Any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous," spokesperson Matthew Miller said, adding that the U.S. had "no indication" Israel was behind the attack.

"Certainly, our hearts go out to all the innocent victims and their family members … their lives are going to be forever changed by this, but we don't have any more detail in terms of how it happened or who might be responsible," said John Kirby, strategic communications co-ordinator at the White House's National Security Council.

WATCH | No one has claimed responsibility for deadly bombings:

No one has taken responsibility for deadly blasts in Iran

6 hours ago

Duration 2:05

More than 100 people were killed after two bombs exploded in the city of Kerman at a commemoration of prominent Iranian general Qassam Soleimani who was killed by a 2020 U.S. drone strike. No one has taken responsibility for the attack.

Iran has seen mass protests in recent years, including those over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in 2022.

The country has also been targeted by exile groups in attacks dating back to the turmoil surrounding its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mideast tensions high

Iran itself has been arming militant groups over the decades, including Hamas, the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels.

As Israel wages its devastating war in Gaza after Hamas's 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 Palestinians.

Israel is suspected of launching an attack on Tuesday that killed a deputy head of Hamas in Beirut, but that attack saw limited casualties in a densely populated neighbourhood of the Lebanese capital. Last week, a suspected Israeli strike killed a Revolutionary Guard commander in Syria.

A Houthi spokesperson, Mohammed Abdel-Salam, sought to link Wednesday's bombings to Iran's "support for the resistance forces in Palestine and Lebanon," though he did not specifically blame anyone for the attack.

Leaders around the world offered their condolences.

"The murder of civilians who visited the cemetery is shocking in its cruelty and cynicism," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called the people who were killed in the attacks "martyrs who died on the same road, cause and battle that was led by" Soleimani.

The European Union issued a statement offering "its solidarity with the Iranian people.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the "heinous terrorist attacks," and neighbouring Iraq also expressed condolences.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had been expected to visit Turkey on Thursday.

National icon

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 al-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.

A large portrait of an older bearded man looking beatific is seen near men in green safety vests.

Ultimately, a drone strike launched by the Trump administration killed the general, part of escalating incidents that followed the 2018 unilateral withdrawal by the U.S. from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Soleimani's death has drawn large processions in the past. At his funeral in 2020, a stampede broke out in Kerman, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200 were injured as thousands thronged the procession.

Otherwise, Kerman has largely been untouched in the recent unrest and attacks that have struck Iran. The city and province of the same name sit in Iran's central desert plateau.

Until Wednesday, the deadliest attack to strike Iran since the revolution was the 1981 truck bombing of the Islamic Republican Party's headquarters in Tehran. That attack killed at least 72 people, including the party's leader, four government ministers, eight deputy ministers and 23 parliament members.

In 1978, just ahead of the revolution, an intentionally set fire at the Cinema Rex in Abadan killed hundreds of people.

With files from CBC News Network

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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