Iran: Deadly blasts near grave of slain Qassem Soleimani
Day of mourning declared, as the official death toll keeps rising hours after the incident at the anniversary of the late general's death
Iranian state TV says more than 100 people have been killed in blasts near the grave of Iran's late top commander on the anniversary of his death.
Qassem Soleimani was killed in an US drone attack in Iraq in 2020.
At least 103 people have died after explosions were heard near the grave of Iranian general Soleimani on Wednesday, 3 January, the anniversary of his killing, Iran's state television has reported.
The official death toll has constantly risen in the hours since the incident. More than 180 were also reportedly injured.
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the blasts, which appear to be the deadliest militant attacks on Iranian soil since the 1979 revolution. Thursday, 4 January, has been declared a day of mourning across the country.
This comes amid already heightened tensions over Israel's war with Hamas — a Palestinian militant group and an Iranian ally — in Gaza. Hamas is deemed a terrorist organisation by the US, Israel, EU and others.
What we know about the attack
The two explosions, which took place at around 3 p.m. (11:30 GMT) and 20 minutes later respectively, reportedly detonated near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in Kerman in southern Iran, where Soleimani is buried.
The SNN news agency reported that ambulances headed toward the cemetery, where hundreds had gathered to mark the anniversary of Soleimani's death in a US drone strike at Baghdad Airport in 2020.
Iran's Tasnim news agency cited informed sources as saying there were two bags carrying bombs that seemed to have been set off by remote control.
Rahman Jalali, the deputy governor of Kerman province, told state TV that the blasts were "a terrorist attack", though he did not elaborate on possible perpetrators.
Iranian interior minister Ahmad Vahidi said security authorities would react "quickly and forcefully" to the twin bombings.
He said most of the victims had died in the second bombing.
Ayatollah Khamenei vows 'strong response'
The Islamic Republic's most senior leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a statement several hours after the explosions that "this tragedy will be met with a strong response".
He laid the blame on the "evil and criminal enemies of the Iranian nation".
Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi vowed to quickly find the perpetrators of Wednesday's "heinous" attack.
"Undoubtedly, the perpetrators... of this cowardly act will soon be identified and punished for their heinous act by the capable security and law enforcement forces," Raisi said in a statement.
"The enemies of the nation should know that such actions can never disrupt the solid determination of the Iranian nation."
Following Khamenei's reference to Iran's "enemies" being behind the blasts, US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller denied that his country had any involvement in the incident.
"The United States was not involved in any way, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous," he said, adding "We have no reason to believe that Israel was involved in this explosion" either.
"We do express our sympathies to the victims and their loved ones who died in this horrific explosion," Miller said.
The attack was met with widespread condemnation, with statements being made by Germany, the European Union and Russia among others.
"We are deeply saddened by the many deaths in today's explosions in #Kerman, including many children," Germany's foreign ministry wrote on Wednesday on X, formerly Twitter. "We condemn this act of terror."
An EU spokesperson said that the bloc "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."
"Our thoughts now are with the victims and their families. Perpetrators must be held accountable."
A message of solidarity also came from Russian president Vladimir Putin in a letter to Khamenei.
"The killing of peaceful people visiting the cemetery is shocking in its cruelty and cynicism," Putin said.
Who was Qassem Soleimani?
As commander of the Quds Force, Soleimani was the head of foreign operations of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and seen as an icon by supporters of Iran's theocracy. At his funeral in 2020, at least 56 people died in a stampede that also injured hundreds.
Soleimani became a target for the US in the early 2000s after it was found that he had been helping to arm militants in Iraq with penetrating roadside bombs that killed and maimed US troops — assistance that raised his popularity and profile in Iran.
He later became a renowned battlefield commander who also wielded considerable political power.
His death in a drone attack launched by the Trump administration came amid escalating incidents in the wake of Washington's 2018 withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.