Investigators believe suicide bombers likely carried out an attack on a commemoration for an Iranian general slain in a 2020 U.S. drone strike, state media reported Thursday, as Iran grappled with its worst mass-casualty attack in decades and as the wider Mideast remains on edge.
The report by the state-run IRNA news agency quoted an unnamed “informed source.”
Wednesday’s attack in Kerman killed at least 84 people and wounded another 284. It targeted a ceremony honouring Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, held as an icon by supporters of the country’s theocracy and viewed by the U.S. military as a deadly foe who aided militants who killed American troops in Iraq.
No group has yet to claim responsibility for the attack.
The IRNA report quoted the official as saying that surveillance footage from the route to the commemoration at Kerman’s Matryrs Cemetery clearly showed a male suicide bomber detonating explosives. The official said the second blast “probably” came from another suicide bomber, though it hadn’t been determined beyond doubt.
The official also gave new distances for how far apart the blasts happened, describing them as occurring 1.5 kilometres (about a mile) and 2.7 kilometres (1.68 miles) away from Soleimani’s crypt. The official said the bombers likely chose the locations because they were outside of the security perimeter for the commemoration.
An earlier death toll of 103 was twice revised lower after officials realized that some names had been repeated on a list of victims and due to the severity of wounds suffered by some of the dead, health authorities said. 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 Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. The explosions occurred as long lines of people gathered to mark the event.
Iranian state television and officials described the attacks as bombings, without immediately giving clear details of what happened. The attacks came a day after a deputy head of the Palestinian militant group Hamas was killed in a suspected Israeli strike in Beirut.
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. A U.S. State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said American officials had “no reason” to believe Israel was involved in Wednesday’s attack in Iran. That was echoed by National Security Council spokesman John Kirby at the White House, who said “our hearts go out to all the innocent victims and their family members.”
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.