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Source: Washington Post

Jan 6, 2024

Iran announces arrest of 11 over deadly suicide bombings in Kerman
Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blasts in a message posted to social media on Thursday

By Andrew Jeong and Bryan Pietsch

Iranian authorities have arrested 11 people linked to Wednesday’s bomb blasts in the central Iranian city of Kerman that killed dozens of people, the country’s Intelligence Ministry said in a statement published in state media.

Two suspects who were “supporting and supplying” the two alleged suicide bombers were arrested Thursday, the statement said. Nine others who Iranian officials believe are part of a network assisting the bombers were rounded up in six provinces, according to the ministry. Iranian officials said the two bombers had worked for Daesh, the Arabic acronym referring to Islamic State.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blasts in a message posted to social media on Thursday.

The operation to capture individuals linked to the bombing “will definitely continue until the arrest of the last person who was involved in supporting the criminals in any way and to any extent,” the ministry said.

The two explosions in Kerman killed at least 91 people, the Associated Press reported, citing Iranian state TV. The blasts also injured more than 200, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing Iranian officials. They struck as thousands of mourners had gathered in the city’s streets to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the death of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, a senior commander in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who was killed in a 2020 U.S. drone strike.

Iranian authorities said one of the two suicide bombers was a Tajik citizen while the other’s nationality “has not been definitively established yet.” Officials said they found two explosive vests, two remote control devices and detonators, and several thousand bullets and wiring for the vests, among other items at the two bombers’ residence.

The Washington Post could not immediately verify the Intelligence Ministry’s account.

The blasts, while unrelated to the war in Gaza, came amid soaring tensions across the Middle East, amid fears that the conflict between Israel and Hamas could engulf the wider region. Some Iranian officials, without evidence, initially blamed the attack on Israel, but have since publicly blamed Islamic State militants.

Still, Israel and the United States have both clashed with Iran-backed militias in recent weeks, including tit-for-tat strikes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters on the Lebanon border, and confrontations between the U.S. Navy and Yemen’s Houthi militants in the Red Sea.

The Houthis, who are aligned with Iran, have fired on and hijacked ships passing through the corridor — one of the world’s most important shipping routes — in what they say are acts of protest against Israel’s war in Gaza.

On Dec. 31, 2023, U.S. Navy helicopters exchanged fire with Houthi gunmen who, aboard four small boats, had approached and threatened a Danish-owned vessel in the Red Sea. The Houthi boats sank and their crew members were killed, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Several days later, a targeted strike on a building in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, killed senior Hamas leader Saleh Arouri. Israel has not said whether it was behind the strike, but a U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the Israeli military was responsible for the killing.

In Iraq and Syria, pro-Iran proxies have repeatedly targeted U.S. military bases. About 2,500 U.S. troops are based in Iraq to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State, a foe of Iran.

On Thursday, the United States carried out a strike on an Iran-linked militia commander in central Baghdad. The operation, which killed Mushtaq Talib al-Saidi, a senior member of Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, risked accelerating the regional fallout of the Gaza war, even as the Biden administration says it is scrambling to contain the bloodshed.

Jeong reported from Seoul and Pietsch from Washington. Mustafa Salim in Baghdad, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut and Alex Horton in Washington contributed to this report.

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