By Parisa Hafezi and Elwely Elwelly
DUBAI, Jan 4 (Reuters) – Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber vowed revenge on Thursday for explosions that killed nearly 100 people at a ceremony to commemorate top commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. drone in 2020 in Iraq.
“A very strong retaliation will be handed to them on the hands of the soldiers of Soleimani,” Mokhber told reporters at a hospital were some of the wounded were receiving treatment for the bloodiest attack since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
No one claimed responsibility for the blasts. A senior official in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said the blasts appeared to represent “a terrorist attack” of the type carried out in the past by Islamic State militants.
In a statement, Iran’s powerful Guards described Wednesday’s attack as a cowardly act “aimed at creating insecurity and seeking revenge against the nation’s deep love and devotion to the Islamic Republic”.
The powerful Guards also said the attack “strengthens the resolve to decisively and justly punish the perpetrators.”
The Guards commander in the southeastern city of Kerman denied state media reports of a shooting in Kerman on Thursday.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the “heinous and inhumane crime”, and Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, vowed revenge for the twin bombings.
Iran’s Red Crescent rescuers tended to wounded people at the ceremony, where hundreds of Iranians had gathered to mark the anniversary of Soleimani’s killing. Some Iranian news agencies said the number of wounded was much higher.
Tehran often accuses its arch enemies, Israel and the United States, of backing anti-Iran militant groups.
In 2022, the Sunni Muslim militant group Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran which killed 15 people.
Earlier attacks claimed by the group include twin bombings in 2017 which targeted Iran’s parliament and the tomb of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Baluchi militants and ethnic Arab separatists have also staged attacks in Iran.
The U.S. assassination of Soleimani in a Jan. 3, 2020, drone attack at Baghdad airport, and Tehran’s retaliation – by attacking two Iraqi military bases that house U.S. troops – brought the United States and Iran close to full-blown conflict.
As chief commander of the elite Quds force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Soleimani ran clandestine operations abroad and was a key figure in Iran’s longstanding campaign to drive U.S. forces from the Middle East.
Tensions between Iran and Israel, along with its ally the United States, have reached a new high over Israel’s war on Iran-backed Hamas militants in Gaza in retaliation for their Oct. 7 rampage through southern Israel.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia have attacked ships they say have links to Israel in the entrance to the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
U.S. forces have come under attack from Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria over Washington’s backing of Israel and have carried out their own retaliatory air strikes.
(Writing by Michael Georgy and Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Timothy Heritage)