Tehran: The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group claimed on Thursday that it was behind the twin bombings that killed at least 84 people and wounded hundreds more at a memorial ceremony in Iran for Qasem Soleimani, the slain commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. The bombings, which took place on Wednesday near Soleimani’s tomb in the southern city of Kerman, were the deadliest terrorist attack in Iran in recent years.
Iran observed a day of national mourning on Thursday for the victims of the attack, which coincided with the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s death in a US drone strike in Baghdad. Soleimani was a revered figure in Iran and a staunch enemy of IS, a Sunni extremist group that has carried out several attacks in majority-Shiite Iran in the past.
In a statement posted on Telegram, IS said that two of its members “activated their explosives vests” among the crowds of mourners who had gathered to pay tribute to Soleimani. The group said that the attack was a “revenge” for Soleimani’s role in fighting against IS in Iraq and Syria.
Iranian investigators confirmed that the first blast was caused by a “suicide bomber” and suspected that the second blast was also triggered by another “suicide bomber”, according to the official IRNA news agency. The agency quoted an “informed source” as saying that the bombers had infiltrated the crowd by wearing military uniforms and carrying fake identification cards.
The death toll from the attack was revised down from around 100 to 84 on Thursday, after the authorities faced difficulties in identifying the dismembered bodies and realized that some victims were counted multiple times. Iran’s emergency services chief Jafar Miadfar said that 284 people were injured in the attack and 195 of them were still hospitalized.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned the attack as a “crime” committed by the “evil and criminal enemies” of the Islamic Republic, without naming them. He vowed a “harsh response” to the perpetrators and their supporters. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, Mohammad Jamshidi, accused the US and Israel of being responsible for the attack, saying that “terrorism is just a tool” for them.
The US and Israel denied any involvement in the attack while expressing condolences to the victims. “The United States was not involved in any way, and any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. Israel declined to comment on the attack but said that it was ready to defend itself against any Iranian retaliation.
The attack came amid heightened regional tensions, following the Gaza war that erupted on October 7, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli official figures. Iran praised Hamas for its attack while denying any role in it.
Israel responded to Hamas’ attack with a massive offensive that destroyed large parts of Gaza and killed more than 22,300 people, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The war ended with a ceasefire on November 21, but the situation remains volatile.
Iranian authorities called for mass protests against the Kerman bombings after the weekly prayers on Friday, when the funeral for the victims will be held. Soleimani, who oversaw Iran’s military operations across the Middle East, was widely respected by many Iranians, and millions of people attended his funeral in 2020. The current Quds Force commander, Esmail Qaani, said that the Kerman crowd was “attacked by bloodthirsty people supplied by the United States and the Zionist regime”.