A massive explosion at a Revolutionary Guards arms depot near the Iranian capital killed dozens of people and wounded several others Saturday, in what officials were treating as an accident, while international media reports suggested it was an act of sabotage.
The assumption of sabotage stemmed from the explosion's location - a Shahab missile base - and the fact that another explosion in another Iranian missile base two years ago had been attributed at the time to a covert Mossad operation.
A spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards - Iran's elite military force - said the blast happened as troops were moving munitions at an arms base in Bidganeh, near the town of Shahriar.
"My dear colleagues in the Revolutionary Guards were moving munitions in one of the arsenals at that base when, due to an incident, an explosion happened," spokesman Ramezan Sharif told state TV news channel IRINN. "Some of the wounded are reported to be in a critical condition."
According to past reports by Iranian opposition groups, the village of Bidganeh is where the Fifth Raad Missile Brigade is stationed. The brigade is in charge of launching Shahab 3 and 4 missiles. Satellite images of the site reveal two large military bases near the village.
Iranian media released contradicting reports of the number of casualties. One of them reported 26 fatalities and 16 injured people. The report said senior Revolutionary Guards commander Hassan Mokhadan was among those killed.
The blast was so large it was felt in western suburbs of Tehran, 45 kilometers away, witnesses said. Others said they assumed there had been a low-level earthquake. Some media reports said the initial blast was followed by a second explosion.
The semi-official Fars news agency said 25 people had been taken to the hospital.
There were no reports linking the blast to any air strike or other attack. Tension has risen in recent weeks between Iran and its enemies Israel and the United States, which have not ruled out striking nuclear facilities they believe are working toward making atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies.
On October 12 last year, a similar blast at a Revolutionary Guards munitions store killed and wounded several servicemen in Khoramabad in western Iran. Authorities said that explosion was an accident.
In recent years several mysterious explosions have taken place in military installations in Iran. Two years ago some 20 people were killed in a similar blast at a base 500 kilometers southwest of Tehran. According to the Washington-based Global Security Institute, the base was used to assemble and store long-range Shahab 3 missiles.
Two weeks later, the French newspaper Le Figaro reported the Mossad was behind the explosion.
Foreign media has reported in the past that Israel's Mossad intelligence service backs certain opposition activists and underground movements, and uses them to carry out attacks.
Iran has blamed the CIA, Mossad and British intelligence in backing militant group Jundollah, which has waged a low-level insurgency in recent years.
Its members accuse Iran's mostly Shi'ite government of persecution and have carried out attacks against the Revolutionary Guard and Shi'ite targets in southeastern Iran.
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