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US warned Iran of terror threat ahead of twin suicide bombings in Kerman

ISIL (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack in the southeastern city that killed nearly 100 people and wounded scores.

Twin explosions went off during a ceremony to mark the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Kerman, Iran, on January 3, 2024 [File: Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

The United States government had privately warned Iran that ISIL (ISIS) was preparing to carry out a terrorist attack ahead of the coordinated suicide bombings that killed nearly 100 people in the southeastern city of Kerman.

The confidential alert came after the US acquired intelligence that ISIL’s affiliate in Afghanistan was plotting to attack Iran, a US official said on Thursday.

“The US government followed a longstanding ‘duty to warn’ policy that has been implemented across administrations to warn governments against potential lethal threats,” said the official, who requested anonymity. “We provide these warnings in part because we do not want to see innocent lives lost in terror attacks.”

On January 3, two suicide bombings in Kerman were carried out during a memorial for slain commander Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US drone attack in 2020.

Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed in a strike in Iraq ordered by then-US President Donald Trump.

The ISIL armed group claimed responsibility on January 4 for the attack in Kerman, about 820km (510 miles) southeast of the capital, Tehran.

After the bombings, at least 35 people were arrested across the country, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence said. Authorities said they had identified the alleged ringleader as a Tajik national known by his alias Abdollah Tajiki.

He had entered Iran in mid-December by crossing the southeastern border and left two days before the attack after making the bombs, according to a statement from the ministry.

Iranian forces subsequently struck targets in Iraq and Syria, allegedly linked to ISIL. The IRGC said the targets hit included the alleged headquarters of the Israeli spy agency Mossad in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region.

Tehran frequently alleges that both Israel and the US support anti-Iran armed groups involved in past attacks.

In 2022, ISIL claimed responsibility for an attack on an Iranian Shia shrine that killed 15 people.

Earlier attacks attributed to ISIL include 2017 twin bombings targeting Iran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the republic.

Violence has flared across the Middle East since Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, which has now killed more than 26,000 Palestinians.

The US accuses Iran of backing the Palestinian group Hamas, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, Lebanese Hezbollah and armed groups in Iraq.

‘Olive branch’

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East programme at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, DC, said the US warning may reflect a wider desire in Washington to seek dialogue with Tehran despite recent attacks by Iranian-backed proxies on US, Israeli and other Western interests.

“This is an olive branch,” Alterman told the Reuters news agency, adding that US President Joe Biden’s administration came into office believing dialogue between Washington and Tehran could benefit both sides.

The Biden administration has so far failed to revive the 2015 accord reached between Tehran and world powers limiting Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 under Trump, who maintained the deal was not doing enough, and imposed its harshest sanctions on Iran, which remain in effect.