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Deadly blast rocks Iranian city

Latest update : 2008-04-13

At least eight people were killed and more than 60 others wounded in the historic southern Iranian city of Shiraz when a bomb exploded in a mosque, according to Iranian media reports.

Eight people were killed and at least 50 were wounded by a bomb blast at a mosque in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz, an extremely rare event in the Islamic republic, the Fars news agency reported.

Citing city officials, the agency said a "bomb explosion" took place at 9:00 pm (1630 GMT), during a sermon by a leading local cleric.

No details were given on how the explosion was set off.

The agency, which is known for its security contacts, said the death toll could rise, and that several young girls and boys were in attendance at the sermon.

"A source in the governorate of the province of Fars said that 50 people were wounded and eight people have been martyred," the agency reported.

State television said the explosion caused "several dead and wounded", without specifying the number of casualties.

English-language state channel Press-TV spoke of eight killed and 66 wounded.

There were no reports of any group claiming the blast.

"A report has been opened into the causes of the blast," said Mohammad Reza Hadaegh, the deputy governor of Fars province in charge of security issues, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Deadly attacks in Iran have become extremely rare events in the past two decades, although the first years after the 1979 Islamic revolution were marked by a succession of bomb blasts by outlawed opposition groups.

The last major militant attack in Iran was a strike by suspected Sunni rebels in the southeastern city of Zahedan in February 2007 that killed 13 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.

There have also been deadly attacks in recent years in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, which has an Arab minority that Iranian officials have blamed on Britain, as well as unrest in Kurdish-populated provinces.

Despite sharing borders with conflict-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, security in Iran is normally considered to be the most stable in the Middle East.

The cleric, named only as Hojatoleslam Anjavinejad, had been preaching against Wahhabism -- the ultra-conservative form of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.

He had also attacked Bahais, a group who were once by far Iran's biggest non-Muslim minority and believe in the unity of all religions, Fars reported.

However, they are deemed as apostate by the Islamic republic and their beliefs are not recognised by the constitution.

It was reported that the target appeared to be a cultural centre that is part of the mosque, which is located on the outskirts of the city.

Shiraz is one of Iran's most famous cities and a popular destination for foreign tourists due to its proximity to important ancient sites from the Achaemenian Empire from 550-331 BC.

The city is not in a border zone, nor it home to any signficant population of ethnic or religious miniorities.

Iran has repeatedly accused its Western enemies of seeking to stir up trouble in the country at a time of mounting tension over its contested nuclear programme.

Officials have frequently spoken of arrests and the breaking up of cells who were planning to stage attacks in the country.

Date created : 2008-04-12