Thousands attend funeral of slain guard colonel in Iran

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TEHRAN, Iran – Thousands of mourners took to the streets of Tehran on Tuesday to pay their respects to a Revolutionary Guards member who was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorcycle earlier this week, punching them in the air and chanting “Death to Israel.”

Sunday’s assassination of Col. Hassan Sayyid Khodai features previous deadly shootings in Iran, such as those blamed on Israel and targeted by the country’s nuclear scientists.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Iranian officials have blamed “global arrogance” for killing Khodai, a code for the United States and Israel.

The funeral procession passed through Tehran’s main cemetery as mourners chanted anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. A prominent poster welcoming General Kasem Soleimani, a top Iranian general killed in a US drone strike in Iraq in 2020, as a martyr, and carrying fragmented Israeli, American and British flags.

“Iran is a victim of terrorism,” the banner announced, covered with the logos of Mossad and Central Intelligence Agency.

Guard Commander General Hussein Salami and General Ismail Ghani, leader of the Iranian expedition Quds Force, attended the janaza.

Ghani also expressed his condolences at Khodai’s house on Monday night. Iran’s nuclear negotiator has visited the crime scene, highlighting the government’s push. Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi has vowed retaliation. A street in Tehran has already been named after the colonel.

Khodai, 50, remains a shadowy figure, and Iran has not yet given a biographical account of how he was a member of the elite Quds Force, which conducts operations abroad through Iran’s allied militias across the Middle East. The Guard described him as a “guardian of the shrine” – a reference to Iranians supporting militias fighting the extremist Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

The assassination attempt provoked previous Israeli targets in Iran. In November 2020, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed while traveling in a car outside Tehran.

The women, dressed in black, wept and wept over the engraved coffin, an ornate box covered with flowers and the Iranian flag and a symbol of mourning for the Shia faith.

“We just want revenge,” one of the mourners told the Associated Press at the funeral. He only gave his last name. “Enemies must be aware that we are loyal to the martyrs and their blood is very precious to us.”

Iranian security forces are still pursuing the attackers, who have fled, state media reported. Authorities have not yet made any arrests in connection with the killings.

The procession took place as sandstorms covered Iran and closed schools and government offices in the capital.

Meanwhile, in the country’s central desert, a fighter jet crashed during a training exercise, killing two pilots, state media reported. The report did not identify the cause of the accident at the Anark training site near the central city of Isfahan. The investigation was ongoing.

The Iranian Air Force has a stockpile of US-made military aircraft purchased before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It also has Russian-made MiG and Sukhoi aircraft.

Decades of Western sanctions have made it difficult to obtain spare parts and maintain older aircraft. Accidents occur occasionally in its shaky navy. In February, a fighter jet sank on a football field in the northwestern city of Tabriz, killing both the pilot and a civilian.

Iran is believed to have modeled its F-8 fighter on the Chinese jet J-8, which is considered a replica of the Soviet-era MiG-21. Beijing has built the aircraft for export to countries including Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and North Korea. Iranian pilots have used the F-7 for training for years, with some accidents.

Four years ago, an F-8 similarly crashed near Isfahan during a training exercise because of what was later described as a technical problem.

Isabel DeBrey, an Associated Press writer based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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