DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Islamic State group, also known as Isis, claimed responsibility Thursday, Jan. 4, 2024, for two suicide bombings targeting a commemoration for an Iranian general slain in a 2020 U.S. drone strike, the worst militant attack to strike Iran in decades as the wider Middle East remains on edge.
Experts who follow the group confirmed that the statement, circulated online among jihadists, came from the extremists, who likely hope to take advantage of the chaos gripping the region amid Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Wednesday’s attack in Kerman killed at least 84 people and wounded an additional 284. It targeted a ceremony honoring Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, held as an icon by supporters of the country’s theocracy and viewed by the U.S. military as a deadly foe who aided militants who killed American troops in Iraq.
On Thursday, chunks of asphalt appeared missing from the roadway where one bomb went off, suggesting the bomb had been packed with shrapnel to increase its deadly effects. Another spot still bore congealed blood from the wounded.
“The moment I turned around to tell my husband’s sister, ‘Let’s go to the square,’ the bomb exploded,” 38-year-old Mahdieh Sazmand told The Associated Press from her Kerman hospital bed. “If we were just 10 steps further we would have been right over the bomb.”
The Islamic State group claim identified the two attackers as Omar al-Mowahed and Seif-Allah al-Mujahed. The claim said the men carried out the attacks with explosive vests. It also used disparaging language when discussing Shiites, which the Islamic State group views as heretics.
The statement did not mention which regional arm of the extremists carried out the attack, which other claims in the past have had. But Aaron Y. Zelin, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that some previous claims have not specified the regional arm, and that the latest claim came directly from an account associated with the group.
The group likely hoped to see Iran strike at Israel, widening its war on Hamas into a regional conflict that Islamic State could potentially take advantage of, Zelin said.
“This falls under the modus operandi of IS, especially since it was such a mass casualty attack,” Zelin said. “They are kind of like the Joker. They want to see the world burn. They don’t care how it happens as long as it benefits them.”
The Islamic State group previously claimed a June 2017 attack in Tehran on parliament and a masoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 50. The group has claimed two other assaults as well.
The extremist group, which once held vast territory across Iraq and Syria in a self-described caliphate it declared in 2014, ultimately were beaten back by U.S.-led forces. It has been in disarray in the years since, though it has mounted major assaults.
In neighboring Afghanistan, for instance, the Islamic State group is believed to have grown in strength since the fall of the Western-backed government there to the Taliban in 2021.