Men rhythmically struck their chests, a traditional way of showing grief, as women wept quietly. Shouts of “Death to America,” and “Death to Zionism” could be heard from the crowd gathered in Bozorgmehr Square in the central city of Isfahan, where the soldiers were based.
Family members accompanied the bodies of their loved ones to Isfahan’s Bagh Rezvan Cemetery. Five of the victims will be buried there and the rest will be buried in nearby cities and towns in Isfahan Province.
Pegah Mohammadi, 19, a student, said she attended the funeral to say goodbye to heroes who sacrificed to provide security to the Iranian people. “They gave their blood to protect our borders, to bring us security and peace,” she said.
IRGC Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of supporting terror groups that attack Iranian forces, saying they could face “reprisal operations.”
Earlier, he said that the United States and Israel ordered Saudi Arabia and the UAE to carry out the attack, which also wounded 13.
“The treacherous government of Saudi (Arabia) and the UAE should know that the patience of the Islamic Republic about your hidden support for criminals and Takfiri groups has come to an end and Iran will not tolerate it anymore,” said Jafari in a speech to the crowd.
“We will get revenge for the blood of our martyrs from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates,” he said. He asked President Hassan Rouhani to give the IRGC the freedom to retaliate.
Wednesday’s attack, claimed by the Jaish al-Adl terror group, killed both seasoned officers and younger soldiers, including a 20-year-old in the Isfahan-based IRGC forces. The assault killed members of the IRGC’s Imam Hussein division, which played a significant role in various battles during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
The bombing could lead to Iranian retaliation against Jaish al-Adl. The terror group largely operates across the border in Pakistan. Recent terrorist assaults inside Iran have sparked retaliatory ballistic missile strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Attacks by Jaish al-Adl, or “Army of Justice,” have increased in recent years. Since its founding in 2012, it has abducted or killed border guards in hit-and-run assaults from its havens in Pakistan. It kidnapped 11 Iranian border guards in October. Five later were returned to Iran and six remained held.
Pakistan to ‘pay high price’
Jafari said Iran expects Pakistan to “punish” the group, which allegedly has taken refuge in southwestern Pakistan. “If they do not punish them, our retaliatory measures will be carried out,” he said.
The general said the Pakistani government knows where the attackers are harbored and accused Pakistan security forces of supporting them.
He warned Pakistan it would “pay a heavy price” for harboring the terrorists.
“Why do Pakistan’s Army and security body ... give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups? Pakistan will no doubt pay a high price,” Jafari said.
“Just in the past year, six or seven suicide attacks were neutralized but they were able to carry out this one,” he told the mourners.
Tehran immediately linked Wednesday’s attack to a US-led conference in Warsaw largely focused on Iran, just two days after the nation marked the 40th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The bomb struck a bus traveling on a road between the cities of Khash and Zahedan, a mountainous region along the Pakistani border that is also near Afghanistan. Images after the blast published by semi-official news agencies showed the explosion tore the bus apart, as passers-by used the light of their cellphones to illuminate the debris.
The IRGC issued a statement saying a vehicle loaded with explosives targeted a bus carrying border guards affiliated with its force.
AP and Reuters contributed to this story.