- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 13, 2008

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian officials today ruled out an attack as the cause of an explosion that killed 12 people inside a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz.

The explosion ripped through the mosque packed with hundreds of worshippers late yesterday as a cleric delivered his weekly speech against extremist Wahabi beliefs and the outlawed Baha’i faith, the semiofficial Fars news agency said.

Iranian officials raised the death toll from an explosion in a packed mosque in southern Iran to 12 and said more than 200 had been injured in the blast.

Iranian media initially quoted local officials as saying the explosion yesterday in the city of Shiraz was caused by a homemade bomb and could have been religiously motivated.

But officials gave a different account today, saying it was an accident possibly caused by ammunition leftover from a recent military exhibition in the mosque.

“It was not because of bombing,” said Abbas Mohtaj, deputy interior minister in charge of security. The “explosion was due to an accident which is under investigation,” he added. The cause of the explosion could not be independently verified.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said today that no group has claimed responsibility for the explosion.

Earlier, the Fars agency quoted a local police official as saying a homemade bomb had caused the explosion and indicated the attack could been religiously motivated. But the agency backed off those speculations today.

A witness to the blast, Mostafa Nazari, told the Associated Press that some 1,000 worshippers had gathered at the mosque grounds to hear a cleric speak. He said it was fortunate the blast happened at a part of the building far from the podium, around which most of the audience had crowded.

Shiraz, some 440 miles south of Tehran and the capital of Fars province, is a major draw for foreign tourists who come to see the ruins of nearby Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia.

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