Islamic States better known as ISIS have shaken the Iranian capital and other cities by deadly attacks. 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 US 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 US 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, Tehran’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 Tehran’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.
The Islamic States
More details about the authors of the attack and their motives could not be immediately established. But Aaron Zelin, an expert with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy thinktank, said he would not be surprised if the attack was mounted by the Islamic State branch based in neighbouring Afghanistan, known as ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K.
Tehran, he said, has alleged that ISIS-K has been behind many foiled plots in the last five years. Most of those arrested were Iranians, Central Asians, or Afghans from the Afghanistan-based affiliate’s network rather than from the group’s Iraq and Syria network.
ISIS, he said, harbours a virulent hatred for Shiites – Iran’s dominant sect and often the target of attacks by the group in Afghanistan – who it views as apostates, and for years has made threats against Tehran.
A Taliban crackdown has weakened ISIS-K inside Afghanistan, forcing some members to move to neighbouring states, but the group has continued plotting operations outside the country, according to U.S. officials.
“ISIS-Khorasan’s increased external focus is probably the most concerning development,” said a U.S. National Counterterrorism Center report published in August in CTC Sentinel, a publication of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
In 2022 Islamic State claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Shi’ite shrine in Iran that killed 15 people, while earlier attacks claimed by Islamic State include twin bombings in 2017 that targeted Tehran’s parliament and the tomb of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The attack coincides with a three-month outbreak of fresh hostilities between Israel-Gaza, and Iranian state TV earlier showed crowds gathered at cities across Iran, including Kerman, chanting: “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.
The United States denied on Wednesday any involvement in the explosions and said it also had no reason to believe Israel was involved. It said the blasts appeared to represent “a terrorist attack” of the type carried out in the past by Islamic State.
Tehran often accuses its arch enemies, Israel and the United States, of backing anti-Iran militant groups that have carried out attacks in the past. 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 Tehran close to full-blown conflict.
As chief commander of the elite Quds force, the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Soleimani ran clandestine operations abroad and was a key figure in Iran’s longstanding campaign to drive U.S. forces from the Middle East.