At least 103 people have been killed in Iran as two bombs in quick succession struck a crowd commemorating slain general Qasem Soleimani on the anniversary of his killing, state media has reported.
The blasts, which state television called a “terrorist attack”, came with tension running high in the Middle East a day after Hamas number two Saleh al-Aruri, an Iran ally, was killed in a Beirut drone strike that Lebanese officials blamed on Israel.
The blasts, which came about 15 minutes apart, struck near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in Kerman, Soleimani’s southern hometown where he is buried, as supporters gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of his death in a US drone strike just outside Baghdad Airport.
Kerman’s deputy governor said the explosions were a “terrorist attack”.
At least 170 people were wounded in the bombings, state media said.
Among those killed were three paramedics who rushed to the scene after the first explosion, Iran’s Red Crescent said.
President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the “heinous” crime as the Islamic Republic of Iran declared tomorrow a national day of mourning.
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 ISNA news agency quoted Kerman mayor Saeed Tabrizi as saying the bombs exploded ten minutes apart.
Online footage showed crowds scrambling to flee as security personnel cordoned off the area.
State television showed bloodied victims lying on the ground and ambulances and rescue personnel racing to help them.
“We were walking towards the cemetery when a car suddenly stopped behind us and a waste bin containing a bomb exploded,” an eyewitness was quoted saying by the ISNA news agency.
“We only heard the explosion and saw people falling.”
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 US 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%, ahead of then-president Hassan Rouhani and then-foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
‘Terrorism and violence is never justified’ – Martin
Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin condemned the bombing, calling it a “reprehensible and indiscriminate attack”.
Posting on X, he said that “terrorism and violence is never justified” and sent his condolences to those who lost loved ones.
The European Union has demanded that the perpetrators of the blasts be brought to justice.
“The EU condemns in the strongest terms today’s bombing in the city of Kerman in Iran. The EU expresses its solidarity with the Iranian people. This act of terror has exacted a shocking toll of civilian deaths and injuries,” an EU foreign affairs spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our thoughts now are with the victims and their families. Perpetrators must be held accountable.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences in a letter to Iran’s leaders.
“The killing of peaceful people visiting the cemetery is shocking in its cruelty and cynicism,” Mr Putin wrote.