KERMAN, Iran – Twin bombings struck a crowded memorial service in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman on Wednesday, killing at least 95 people and injuring over 200 more. The blasts targeted an event commemorating the second anniversary of the death of General Qassem Soleimani, a revered military leader who was assassinated by the United States in 2020.
The bombings represent one of the deadliest militant attacks to hit Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution and have raised tensions in a region already on edge amidst rising conflicts. The sophistication of the coordinated attack also suggests possible foreign involvement, according to Iranian leaders who vowed to avenge the deaths and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The first bomb detonated around 3 pm local time on January 3rd outside the Kerman Martyrs Cemetery, where large crowds had gathered near the grave of General Soleimani to pay respects on the somber occasion. The initial blast, thought to be from a parked car filled with explosives, struck around 700 meters from the grave site near a parking area.
As panic ensued and people fled, a second bomb exploded just one kilometer away, apparently timed to inflict maximum casualties by targeting those responding to the first attack. More than a hundred people were killed immediately, with the death toll climbing over subsequent hours as many of the critically injured succumbed to their wounds.
Gruesome images emerged on social media showing scenes of chaos and carnage, with charred bodies and smoldering debris strewn in the streets amidst ruined vehicles. Local hospitals, already strained by the COVID-19 pandemic, were completely overwhelmed with waves of victims covered in blood as anguished family members searched for their loved ones.
“It was a truly horrifying scene, unlike anything I’ve witnessed before,” said Ali Reza, 37, whose cousin was among those killed. “There was smoke everywhere, people screaming and running. We won’t rest until the evil culprits are brought to justice.”
Suspicion immediately fell on several potential perpetrators behind the brazen attack, which required sophisticated coordination. Iran has accused Israel of similar bombings against its nuclear scientists in the past, while Sunni extremist groups like Islamic State have staged previous mass casualty attacks against Shiite targets. The bombing also comes just a day after a senior Hamas official was assassinated in Beirut, thought to be the work of Israel as well.
Iranian leaders, however, cautioned against definitively assigning blame without proof.
“Undoubtedly, the perpetrators and leaders of this cowardly act will soon be identified and punished,” declared Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a televised address to the nation, declaring a day of national mourning on Thursday.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, promised harsh retribution for those behind the deadly attack. “These criminals have ties to arrogant global powers; revenge against them will come,” he tweeted.
General Soleimani headed the elite Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, responsible for clandestine overseas operations. His military campaigns shored up Syria’s Assad regime during that country’s civil war and directed proxy forces against Israel and U.S. troops in the region.
Initially little known outside security circles, Soleimani shot to prominence after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, where his supply of roadside bombs and militia training caused mounting American casualties. By the time of his death in early 2020, he had achieved immense popularity and influence in Iran, considered second only to the Supreme Leader himself.
Soleimani was assassinated on January 3, 2020 in a drone strike at Baghdad Airport ordered by then-President Donald Trump. His killing brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war and sparked massive outpourings of grief in Iran, where millions attended funeral processions across the country. Khamenei proclaimed him a martyr and vowed harsh revenge, while promising that his efforts to evict the U.S. from the Middle East would continue.
Wednesday’s memorial service was meant to be another commemoration of Soleimani two years after his death, which still elicits raw emotions in Iran. The crowds in Kerman were so enormous that a deadly stampede occurred in 2020, killing over 50 mourners.
Officials said security was exceptionally tight given the large expected crowds and the possibility of militant attacks. But the perpetrators managed to evade detection, with the first bomb likely being planted ahead of time while the second was smuggled in close to the gathering. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
The only deadlier terror attack in Iran since 1979 was the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq bombing of the Islamic Republic Party headquarters in 1981, which killed at least 72 politicians and officials. But this latest bombing represents a sophisticated escalation, leading to speculation about foreign intelligence involvement.
Israel has been conducting a shadow war against Iran, including assassinations of nuclear scientists. Just this week, Israeli operatives are thought to be behind the killing of a Hamas official in Beirut using booby-trapped motorcycles. Israel is also widely believed to possess spies throughout Iran who could have facilitated this kind of high-level attack.
At the funeral for the Hamas official on Wednesday, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, paid homage to the victims in Iran, saying “they were martyred on the same path” as Hamas and Hezbollah – namely, resisting Israel and its allies.
The location and timing indicate the bombings required insider knowledge. The grave of Soleimani is not widely known, and targeting the second anniversary suggests intimate awareness of Iran’s cultural calendar. This has raised speculation within Iran about possible Israeli or Western intelligence involvement.
“This highly delicate operation relied on intelligence provided by foreign spy services,” wrote one conservative analyst in the Iranian press. Others blamed Iranian exile groups known to work with Israel, like the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq.
The United States, however, has denied any role in the attack. Israel has remained mum, neither confirming nor denying involvement as is standard policy.
Some Iranian hardliners have suggested that Tehran’s rivals orchestrated the bombings in order to derail renewed nuclear talks with world powers scheduled to resume in the coming weeks. After unilaterally withdrawing in 2018, the Trump administration imposed waves of harsh sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to ramp up its nuclear program.
Negotiators have been meeting in Vienna to hash out a return to the 2015 nuclear deal, which traded sanctions relief for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. Khamenei himself has expressed skepticism that a workable compromise can be reached, even as more pragmatic officials like President Raisi favor a diplomatic resolution.
“The enemies know Iran will not deviate from its revenge for martyr Soleimani,” wrote one analyst. “They seek to cloud this pure motive and discourage the U.S. from concessions at the negotiating table.”
While the full implications of Wednesday’s attack remain uncertain, what is clear is that the twin bombings represent a grave escalation and provocation at an already fragile time. The emotional toll of the brazen strike so close to the heart of Iran’s Revolutionary identity could pressure Tehran into dramatic retaliation regardless of who proves to be ultimately responsible.