Jan. 7 (UPI) — A stampede during a funeral procession Tuesday for slain Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in his hometown of Kerman, lran, killed more than three dozen people, officials said.
The stampede began as millions of mourners carried Soleimani’s body from Kerman’s Azadi Square to his burial site in a martyrs’ cemetery.
The Iranian Students’ News Agency reported at least 50 people died in the crowd and more than 200 were injured.
Soleimani’s burial ceremony, which was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, was canceled in light of the stampede.
The massive crowds in Kerman, about 615 miles southeast of Tehran, mirrored others Sunday and Monday in the capital and elsewhere that honored the slain Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander. The rallies also condemned the United States with crowd chants of “down with the U.S.” and “down with Israel.”
Soleimani, the head of IRGC’s Quds Force, was killed Thursday in an airstrike near Baghdad’s international airport in Iraq. Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, an adviser to Soleimani, was also killed in the attack.
U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the attack after protesters angered by deadly Dec. 29 U.S. airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary group Kataib Hezbollah stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Trump vowed in a tweet Sunday to hit 52 targets in Iran “very hard” if Tehran retaliates for the death of Soleimani, including some targets “at a very high level” that are “important to Iran and the Iranian culture.”
Trump’s threats toward non-military sites in Iran drew swift and widespread criticism, and Pentagon officials later said no cultural sites will be targeted.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Monday the United States has no intention of targeting the sites Trump mentioned — as doing so would amount to a war crime.
“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Milley said.
On Tuesday, Trump said that he likes to “obey the law” but questioned the protection of cultural sites. He also maintained threats that the United States will respond to Iranian actions it deems provocative.
“They kill our people, they blow up our people and then we have to be very gentle with their cultural institutions?” Trump said. “But I’m OK with it. It’s OK with me. If Iran does anything they shouldn’t be doing, they are going to be suffering the consequences and very strongly.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Iran will respond to Soleimani’s slaying, telling CNN the move amounted to “state terrorism.”
“This is an act of aggression against Iran and amounts to an armed attack against Iran, and we will respond,” he said. “But we will respond proportionally not disproportionately. We will respond lawfully, we are not lawless people like President Trump.”
Zarif told ABC News that Tehran is “very patient” and will respond after “necessary deliberation” at a “time of our choosing.”
He said the United States has violated Iraq’s sovereignty with the attack on Soleimani, stirred anti-American sentiment in the region and “murdered” a high-ranking Iranian official.
“They will pay for all three mistakes,” Zarif said.