Published 01/07/2020 | Reading Time 4 min 30 sec
By Nasser Karimi, Amir Vahdat, and Jon Gambrell
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A stampede on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike last week killed 40 people and injured 213 others, two Iranian semi-official news agencies reported.
The stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway, said the Fars and ISNA news agencies, citing Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran’s emergency medical services.
There was no information as to what had set off the stampede. Initial videos posted online showed people lying lifeless on a road and others shouting and trying to help them. Soleimani’s funeral was later delayed but no new timing was given.
“Unfortunately as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions,” he earlier said. In delaying Soleimani’s burial, authorities cited concerns about the massive crowd that had gathered, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.
A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main thoroughfares and side streets in Tehran.
Soleimani’s death has sparked calls across Iran for revenge against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East. The U.S. government warned ships of an unspecified threat from Iran across all the Mideast’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force launched a drill with 52 fighter jets in Utah, just days after President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.
Early Tuesday, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened to “set ablaze” places supported by the United States over the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike last week, sparking cries from the crowd of supporters of “Death to Israel!” Hossein Salami made the pledge before a crowd of thousands gathered in a central square in Kerman before a casket carrying Soleimani’s remains.
The outpouring of grief was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday in a drone strike near Baghdad’s airport. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
His slaying already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.
Speaking in Kerman, Salami praised Soleimani’s exploits, describing him as essential to backing Palestinian groups, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. As a martyr, Soleimani represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies, Salami said.
“We will take revenge. We will set ablaze where they like,” Salami said, drawing the cries of “Death to Israel!”
Israel is a longtime regional foe of Iran.
According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans for revenge for Soleimani’s killing. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the U.S. He declined to give any details,
“If the U.S. troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.
The U.S. Maritime Administration warned Tuesday ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats after the U.S. killed Soleimani. “The Iranian response to this action, if any, is unknown, but there remains the possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests in the region,” it said.
Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied being responsible though it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.
The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any possible threat.
The 5th Fleet “has and will continue to provide advice to merchant shipping as appropriate regarding recommended security precautions in light of the heightened tensions and threats in the region,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Joshua Frey told The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Alireza Tabgsiri, the chief of the Guard’s navy, issued his own warning.
“Our message to the enemies is to leave the region,” Tabgsiri said, according to ISNA. The Guard routinely has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, has passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military’s command at the Pentagon and those acting on its behalf in Soleimani’s killing as “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to be an attempt to mirror a decision by Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”
The U.S. Defense Department used the Guard’s designation as a terror organization in the U.S. to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The decision by Iran’s parliament, done by a special procedure to speed the bill to law, comes as officials across the country threaten to retaliate for Soleimani’s killing.
The vote also saw lawmakers approve funding for the Quds Force with an additional 200 million euros, or about $224 million.
Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. had declined to issue him a visa to travel to New York for upcoming meetings at the United Nations. The U.S. as the host of the U.N. headquarters is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.
“This is because they fear someone will go there and tell the truth to the American people,” Zarif said. “But they are mistaken. The world is not limited to New York. You can speak with American people from Tehran too and we will do that.”
The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Solemani will ultimately be laid to rest between the graves of Enayatollah Talebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades. The two died in Operation Dawn 8 in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq in which Soleimani also took part, a 1986 amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the end of the bloody war that killed 1 million people.