Iran: What we know about the deadly blasts

Iran has vowed revenge for the deadliest attack on its soil in decades. However, it's still not clear who is responsible

Medics at work by an ambulance near the cemetery where slain general Qassem Soleimani was laid to rest, where hundreds gathered to commemorate the anniversary of his death in an US strike in 2020 (photo: DW)
Medics at work by an ambulance near the cemetery where slain general Qassem Soleimani was laid to rest, where hundreds gathered to commemorate the anniversary of his death in an US strike in 2020 (photo: DW)


Two bombs exploded in the Iranian city of Kerman on Wednesday, 3 January, and killed scores of people gathered to commemorate Qassem Soleimani, a prominent Iranian general slain by the US in a 2020 strike.

The blast was the deadliest attack on Iranian soil in the 45-year history of the Islamic Republic.

Iranian officials initially said at least 103 people had been killed, but later revised the figure down twice. It currently stands at 84.

However, hundreds were wounded and many of them are in critical condition, authorities said, indicating the death toll could still rise.

The Iranian government has described the incident as a terror attack, and declared Thursday, 4 January, a national day of mourning.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said whoever is responsible will will face 'a harsh response', according to a statement published by state media.

President Ebrahim Raisi also vowed a decisive response. "Undoubtedly, the perpetrators and leaders of this cowardly act will soon be identified and punished," he said.

The United Nations, the European Union and several countries including Germany, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq have denounced the blasts.

US rejects allegations of involvement

Tehran has blamed Israel and the United States for the attack, without providing any evidence.

Washington, however, has rejected allegations of involvement by either nation.

"The United States was not involved in any way," said US state department spokesman Matthew Miller, adding that the US had "no reason to believe that Israel was involved in this explosion".

Arash Azizi, an expert on Middle Eastern politics and society at Clemson University in the US, said he didn't believe Israel was behind the Iran blasts.

"Israel is currently not seeking a military confrontation with Iran and Israel has never carried out attacks against innocent civilians in Iran," he told DW.

Azizi also pointed to suspicions that Israel has previously engaged in targeted attacks against scientists working on Iran's nuclear program or members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) inside or outside Iran.

However, the expert added, "civilian casualties were avoided in these attacks".

"Also, according to Iranian authorities, no IRGC commander or other high-ranking official was killed in Wednesday's bombings," he said.

Who was Soleimani?

Azizi is the author of the book The Shadow Commander, in which he focused on Soleimani and Iran's global ambitions.

Soleimani was a high-ranking official in the IRGC and in command of the elite Quds Force, responsible for the Islamic Republic's campaigns abroad.

The Quds Force reports directly to Iran's supreme leader and has access to the country's oil revenues.

Tehran has tasked the Quds Force with supporting Iran-friendly political groups as well as securing Iranian military and political interests across the Middle East.

Soleimani was considered a key player in Iranian interventions in places like Syria and Iraq. He was able to quickly mobilise Shiite militias when needed.

On 3 January 2020, the then 62-year-old military commander was killed in a US drone strike as he was visiting Iraq.

Who could be behind the attacks?

Azizi said there are signs that the so-called 'Islamic State — Khorasan Province (ISPK)', a regional branch of the terror outfit IS, could be behind the explosions.

The expert believes the two bombs, detonated one after the other, were intended to kill as many civilians as possible.

"After the first explosion, many people, as well as some rescue workers, had gathered at the site, many of whom were then killed by the second bomb," he said.

"It's important to note that the first bomb was placed next to a museum whose building used to be a Zoroastrian temple," said Azizi. "The ISPK views not only the religion of Zoroastrianism, but also Iran, Iranian culture and Shia Islam as the greatest threat to Islam."

Azizi added that some of his colleagues also suspect IS to be behind the blasts. Nevertheless, he underlined, it's striking that ISPK has not claimed responsibility for the attack — a move which, according to him, is highly unusual.

Ali Fathollah-Nejad, founder and director of the Center for Middle East and Global Order in Berlin, said the Iranian regime appears to be strong from the outside, but "if you take a closer look, it is very vulnerable".

He also does not suspect Israel's involvement in the attack.

At a time when Israel is engaged in a military offensive in Gaza to wipe out Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Germany, the EU, the US and other governments, "it is unlikely that Israel would carry out such an operation, targeting civilians in particular".

This article was originally written in German.

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