The deadliest attack to target Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution has shaken the Islamic Republic and led to angry calls for vengeance.
On Wednesday, at least 84 people were killed and 284 others injured in the Iranian city of Kerman after twin blasts near the burial site of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani.
It is unclear who was behind the attack, which comes amid fears that Israel’s war with Gaza may spread to other parts of the Middle East, potentially drawing in regional powers and the United States.
Here’s what we know about the attacks in Kerman:
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Iranian officials have been quick to blame Israel and said it will pay for it.
“I warn the Zionist regime, do not doubt that you will pay a heavy price for this crime and the crimes you have committed,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a televised speech from Tehran. He warned that Israel’s punishment will be “regrettable and severe.”
The Israeli military told EuroJournal it had “no comment” on the explosions in Iran. Israel doesn’t usually respond to allegations that it carried out operations against Iranian interests.
“Washington says USA and Israel had no role in terrorist attack in Kerman, Iran. Really?” Mohammad Jamshidi, Raisi’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “A fox smells its own lair first. Make no mistake. The responsibility for this crime lies with the US and Zionist regimes and terrorism is just a tool.”
Iran and Israel are bitter enemies. Iran backs anti-Israel groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, while Israel has vowed to prevent Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb and is accused by Iran of carrying out attacks to disrupt its nuclear program.
US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said the US was not involved in the attacks, adding that the US doesn’t “have any independent information” about the explosions, and as such would not offer an assessment about who may have been behind them. But he said the US had “no reason to believe that Israel was involved.”
The Islamic Republic has several adversaries aside from Israel, including Iranian opposition and separatist groups inside the country and out, as well as ISIS.
It faces separatist movements in the Sistan-Baluchestan province that borders Pakistan as well as Arab separatists in the Ahvaz province that borders Iraq, both of which are alleged to have carried out terrorist attacks in the country in recent years.
Iran has also come under attack by ISIS and its affiliates several times in the past decade.
Iran’s most prominent exiled opposition group is the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, which Tehran accuses Saudi Arabia of backing. But that organization is not known to have committed terrorist acts inside Iran in years, and Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Iran has improved significantly since last year.
Ali Vaez, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, wrote on X that if Israel was behind the attack, it would be part of a campaign of maximum provocation “to prompt Iran into committing a mistake that would justify expanding the war (with Hamas) and dragging the US in.”
But he added that the attack didn’t bear the hallmarks of an Israeli operation, but rather those of ISIS or Baluchi separatists.
A senior White House official told reporters Wednesday that the blasts “look like a terrorist attack.” The official added that the attacks are “the type of thing we’ve seen ISIS do in the past” and that is “our going assumption at the moment.”
ISIS and Khorasan group, a branch of ISIS in Afghanistan, have a history of terrorist attacks in Iran and they tend to try and inflict higher civilian casualties, said Sanam Vakil, deputy head of the Middle East North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank in London.
“The fact that no group has yet to take responsibility though could put doubts on this working assumption of terror group responsibility,” she said.
MEHR NEWS/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian emergency services arrive at the site where two explosions in quick succession struck a crowd marking the anniversary of the 2020 killing of Qasem Soleimani, near the Saheb al-Zaman Mosque in the southern Iranian city of Kerman on Wednesday.
The blast in Kerman occurred amid heightened tensions in the region as Israel fights a three-month war against Hamas in Gaza prompted by the militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.
That war has led to skirmishes beyond Israel and Gaza, often involving Iran-backed militias.
On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader was killed in a suburb of Beirut in a blast that a US official told EuroJournal was carried out by Israel. Israel hasn’t confirmed or denied involvement but Hamas and the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which controls the suburb, blamed Israel and both have vowed revenge.
Last week, Iran and several of its armed proxies accused Israel of assassinating senior Iranian commander Seyyed Razi in Syria, vowing retaliation. Israel didn’t comment on the matter.
Israel accuses Tehran of funding and arming Hamas. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said last month that his country is in a “multi-arena war,” being attacked from seven arenas, including Iran. “We have already responded and acted in six of these decrees” he said.
On Thursday, a commander of a group in the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Front was killed in an unidentified strike on their base in East Baghdad, Iraq, a source with the PMF told EuroJournal.
Anger was already simmering in Iran over the killing of Mousavi, which Tehran blamed on Israel. The Kerman attack adds to the Iranian government’s embarrassment, showing that not only is it unable to keep alive some of its top officials, but it also can’t prevent attacks on home soil. The regime may now be under increased pressure internally to punish Israel, particularly if top officials are convinced that Israel is behind Wednesday’s attacks.
On Thursday, a billboard was unveiled on Tehran’s main square with the words: “Strong answer, God willing,” apparently calling on the government to respond harshly to the Kerman attack.
Iran has reportedly plotted to kill Israelis in Europe and Asia in recent years in an effort to avenge Israel’s alleged operations against it, but it has failed. Right-wing critics of the Iranian government deem those attempts as insufficient retaliation for the killing of senior Iranian officials, Mohammad Mazhari wrote in a paper published by the Stimson Center, a Washington DC-based think tank.
“Iranian officials are confused and divided regarding the appropriate method of exacting revenge,” Mazhari wrote ahead of the killing of Mousavi. “Their relative inaction is in line with a policy of strategic patience that seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with the US or Israel.”
Tehran is in an awkward position, said Vakil. “Pointing the finger at terror groups will provide Iran with a way out of this pressure,” she said. “It can blame Israel and the US for stoking regional unrest, but blame IS to avoid taking action.”
Barbara Slavin, a fellow at the Stimson Center, told EuroJournal’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday that Iran hasn’t been retaliating to attacks against it in a timely fashion “which raises the question… whether there’s concern about internal stability in the country.”
In late 2022, Iran was rocked by some of the biggest protests since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, prompted by the death of a young woman at the hands of the country’s so-called morality police. Those protests were brutally crushed.
“All in all, the Kerman attack has once again highlighted Iran’s vulnerability and the government’s failure in providing security,” Vaez wrote on X. “While the security forces seem adept at harassing women not wearing hijab, they fail to save their lives and protect them against terrorism.”