A stampede erupted on Tuesday during the funeral procession in Kerman, hometown of Iran’s top general killed by a U.S. drone last Friday, killing at least 56 people and injuring more than 200 others.
Most of the casualties occurred at an exit from Azadi Square of Kerman where a stampede injured people, mostly the elderly, an informed source who did not want to be named was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) as saying.
Initial reports by Iranian media quoted Mehdi Sadafi, who is in charge of the funeral in Kerman saying the burial has been postponed due to the incident. Other reports say the health minister who is in Kerman is closely dealing with the situation.
Kerman where Soleimani's remains were flown in after ceremonies in Tehran and the holy city of Qom on Monday, was the last leg of the elaborate funeral of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s extraterritorial Qods (Quds) Force.
The government organized the funeral ceremonies to show popular support for Soleimani and as a show of defiance against the United States.
Scant footage in the aftermath of the stampede shows bodies lying around with people shouting for help and trying to assist the victims.
Iranian state TV gave the casualty toll in its earliest online report, without saying where it obtained the information. Pirhossein Koulivand, the head of Iran’s emergency medical services, earlier spoke by telephone to state TV and confirmed the stampede took place.
“Unfortunately, as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions," he said.
Hamid Shamsoddini, the Security Director-General of Kerman Province Governorship, has rejected rumors of a suicide bombing now circulating in the social media.
In Kerman a massive crowd had filled the streets since early morning. Some images show thousands of people waiting for the burial on the mountains surrounding "Garden of Martyrs" Cemetery outside the city.
Tens of thousands of people have participated in Soleimani’s funeral in other Iranian cities, including the capital Tehran on Monday. Many came to Kerman Tuesday from other provinces. According to a Roads Management Department, nearly 100,000 vehicles had entered Kerman Province in the 24 hours before the ceremony began in Kerman.
The crowd attending the funeral in Kerman on Tuesday morning mourning for Soleimani chanted "revenge, revenge" and beat their chests in the traditional mourning manner before the stampede occurred.
Several social media users have criticized the organizers of the funeral ceremony for failing to take sufficient preventative measures to avoid the tragedy.
"With what happened today at the funeral ceremony for General Soleimani in Kerman I realized that we have a home-grown weapon of mass destruction called "mismanagement," Poone Molaei, said in a tweet.
Mohammad, another Twitter user, pointed out that the authorities already have announced the exact number of the dead and injured in the incident, while two months after the unrest in November that killed hundreds and injured thousands, they have not been able to offer any official figures.
Ali Ghanbarloo, a well-known photo journalist, who was covering the funeral in Kerman had in two Instagram posts earlier this morning warned about the safety of the scaffolding at the funeral site based on his prior experience.
"Nobody is listening, this scaffolding will break when the remains arrive. It's not my funeral to erect [a flimsy] scaffolding like this, millions are arriving in Kerman," he wrote in one post.
"I'm going to leave now for any other damned place other than here because I don't want to shoot scenes of the death of my fellow countrymen's. I hope there is no casualty but my experience says more than fifty," he wrote in the second post.
The two posts have now been removed from Ghanbarloo's Instagram page but screenshot are still available on the social media and two Iranian news websites including Fararu.
Iranian mainstream news agencies such as Tasnsim, Fars, IRNA, ISNA, ILNA and YJC reported the stampede earlier but have not published any photos of the scene or victims, presumably due to official censorship advice to downplay the incident.