London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Reports about the blast that took place in the Shohada Mosque last Saturday evening in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz portrayed it as a sectarian conflict in which the culprits were Sunni Salafis or Baha’is. The death toll of the deadly blasts was 12 while approximately 191 were injured.
However, an official at Mahfal Shiraz (a secret centre for Baha’i followers) has confirmed that they were not practicing any political activities – let alone military or terrorist operations – despite the fact that they are subjected to ethnic and religious discrimination. He added that hundreds have been killed as a result of their expulsion from universities and being fired from their administrative jobs, in addition to having their possessions confiscated. The incident remains to be shrouded in mysterious circumstances.
Initially, Police Chief of the southern Fars province, Gen. Ali Moayyeri, ruled out the possibility that it was an “attack” while the Interior Ministry official referred to it as an “incident”. Video footage of broken glass and the rubble left behind after the explosion was being aired; crowds had gathered to wait for their relatives around the site.
According to the Iranian Fars News Agency (FNA), Gen. Moayyeri said, “preliminary investigations carried out by experts have confirmed that [the blast] was not caused by a bomb explosion.”
Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister in charge of security, Abbas Mohtaj told Mehr News Agency (MNA), “Last night’s incident was completely accidental. We are currently examining the causes; however the underlying cause behind the explosion remains unclear.”
He added that the explosion: “May have been caused by residual ammunition in the mosque following a recent military exhibition.” An exhibition commemorating the 1980-88 war with Iraq had been held in the mosque.
Shiraz MP Mohammemd Nabi Roudaki confirmed to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) that the explosion may have been carried out by an unknown party that advertently fired mortar shells that were available at the exhibition,” furthermore referring to the possibility of an accident or a potential criminal bombing.
He disclosed: “This disaster may have been caused by the explosion of 81-caliber shells or the explosion of a bomb that detonated the mortar.”
For his part, the city’s General Prosecutor, Hojjatolelam Jaber Baneshi stated, “We are conducting a judicial inquiry to determine the causes behind the explosion, considering the possibility of a sabotage operation.”
The spokesman for Sunni clerics in the Fars province has refuted claims stating upon any connection between the Sunnis and the explosion and pointed out, “the regime’s intelligence has contrived a pretext under which it accuses the Sunni group, especially those who object to the discrimination practiced against the 14 million Sunnis in Iran; the same ones who have guarded the state’s eastern, western and southern borders throughout the past centuries. However; despite that, they must prove their loyalty to their country by pledging allegiance to the Supreme Guide [Ayatollah Ali Khamanei] and recognizing the principle of Wilayat-e-Faqih, which goes against their religious beliefs that are based in the Quran, Sunnah [Prophetic traditions] and the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
In a phone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mohamed Qasmi, a nurse who was in the vicinity when the explosion happened disclosed, “I came to Shiraz from Kazerun on Saturday morning to sit for examinations in one of the city’s hospitals as I wanted to apply to be part of their medical team. When I walked past the Imam Hussein camp, which is affiliated to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), I noticed the pictures that were posted on its walls about an exhibition entitled ‘Maarij al Shohada’. Before I walked into the mosque to find out the exhibition opening times; I felt what seemed to be an earthquake and I was thrown to the floor and surrounded by the sounds of screams and people started running out of the mosque looking petrified.”
Qasmi revealed that elements from the IRGC and security forces surrounded the mosque minutes after the explosion had taken place even before the arrival of the civilian rescue teams. He also stated that Hojjatolelam Anjaweenejad, the head of the Friday prayer center in Fars, was delivering a sermon at the mosque to a group of youth, including young men from the Basij forces and about 30 young women when the explosion happened. Qasmi related that the preacher was helped by one of the IRGC men without his turban and added that his face was bloodied. “I rushed to help him but he assured me that he was uninjured and in good condition and that there were others whom the mosque roof had collapsed down on that we needed to help.”
Hojjatolelam Anjaweenejad made statements that were published by the website ‘al Saeroon ala Khat al Wasl’ (The Rightly Guided) that contradict the accounts issued by the security authorities, the organized forces, [Friday prayer Imam in Shiraz Ayatollah Mohyeddim] Haeri’s office and the [Supreme] Guide’s representative in Shiraz.
According to Anjaweenejad, “The explosion took place after my sermon had ended by approximately 19 minutes and after searches undertaken by the rescue teams and IRGC experts; it was revealed that someone had planted an explosive device where the displays in which the personal belongings of the martyrs were exhibited. These included helmets, electro-optical bombs, military uniforms and bullets. The explosion of the device in the presence of the aforementioned resulted in setting off another explosion in the south side of the mosque where the exhibition was held.”
However, Haeri and Khamenei’s representative in Shiraz have categorically denied that there were any bullets, bombs or explosives on display at the exhibition.
Former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezai’s website Tabnak News Agency published an account retold by one of the witnesses, Hamid Hashemi, who is an IRGC officer, “on the occasion of the revolution leader’s [Khamenei] upcoming visit to Shiraz, we were undergoing training near the mosque (Imam Hussein camp) to welcome him so we saw what happened after the blast. The people on the street were the first to enter the mosque to try and save the wounded, then the rescue teams came along and they were followed by high-ranking officials. However, the presence of the officials caused disruption and chaos and instead of asking the civilians – who had come to rescue the wounded politely and calmly [to leave] – these officials resorted to other means to expel them out of the mosque.”
An eyewitness confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the security men had physically assaulted the civilians at the mosque after the incident and that they had hit them with sticks and raised weapons to their [the civilians’] faces.