0115 GMT May 06, 2021
A sea of black-clad mourners flooded the streets of Tehran on Monday to pay homage to Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani who was assassinated by the US in a drone strike in Baghdad last week.
Iranians clutching "Down with USA" signs and portraits of their hero, massed as Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei led prayers for the martyred chief of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
The assassination of 62-year-old Soleimani on a direct order by US President Donald Trump saw Ayatollah Khamenei vowing "severe revenge".
The raw emotions sparked by America’s so-called targeted killing of Gen. Soleimani were on full display in Tehran. The procession drew massive crowds of mourners and followers, said by police to be in the millions.
As they marched down a main artery of the Iranian capital city, the mourners chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".
Ayatollah Khamenei wept in grief at one point as he prayed over the flag-draped coffins containing the remains of Soleimani and five other martyrs killed in the strike. The crowd wailed.
The Leader was flanked by President Hassan Rouhani and other top political and military figures as well as Soleimani's son and his replacement as Quds commander Esmail Qaani.
Iran vows revenge
Brigadier General Qaani issued a stern warning in an interview with state TV aired Monday. “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he said.
“We pledge to continue the martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with the help of God, and in return for his martyrdom, we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Qaani said.
In Lebanon, the leader of the resistance group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s assassination made US military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.
Gen. Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC’s aerospace division, suggested Iran’s response would not stop with a single attack.
“Firing a couple of missiles, hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate for the martyr Soleimani’s blood,” Hajizadeh said on state TV. “The only thing that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from the region and taking away their evil from the oppressed people of the region.”
Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, threatened an attack on the US military in the region while speaking to a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see down major thoroughfares in the capital.
“The families of the American soldiers in western Asia ... will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.
Iranian state television and others online shared a video that showed Trump’s American flag tweet following Soleimani’s assassination turn into a coffin, the “likes” of the tweet replaced by over 143,000 “killed” with the hashtag #severerevenge.
Demonstrators burned Israeli and US flags, carried a flag-draped US coffin or effigies of Trump. Some described Trump himself as a legitimate target for Iran’s revenge.
"Down with USA," read a placard held up by a young woman wearing a black chador, while another sign, held aloft by a man called for "#hard_revenge".
"We must give a crushing response," one of the mourners said.
"We must attack all that are in the range of our missiles."
Soleimani was one of Iran's most popular public figures, seen as a hero.
The procession comes after Soleimani's remains returned to Iran on Sunday.
They were paraded through the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz before being taken to second city Mashhad, in the far northeast.
The IRGC said the overwhelming number of mourners in Mashhad forced the cancelation of a ceremony that had been planned in Tehran on Sunday night.
In an escalating war of words that has heightened international concern and rattled financial markets, Trump threatened more "major retaliation" with bombing 52 unspecified targets, including strikes on Iranian cultural sites, if Tehran hits back.
He doubled down on that threat Sunday, dismissing warnings that targeting cultural sites could be a war crime under international law.
“They’re allowed to kill our people. They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way,” Trump told reporters.
Iraq's parliament meanwhile demanded the government expel the 5,200 American troops stationed in the country in response to the drone attack which also killed top Iraqi military figure Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
Adding to the tensions, Trump threatened to demand billions of dollars in compensation from Iraq or impose “sanctions like they’ve never seen before” if it goes through with expelling US troops.
Germany, France and Britain “call on all the players involved to show utmost restraint and responsibility."
"It is crucial now to de-escalate," German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a joint statement Sunday.
The European leaders also pleaded with all parties to not jeopardize the ongoing battle against Daesh, which has lost its self-proclaimed "caliphate" but whose terrorists remain active.
Amid the geopolitical tensions in the oil-rich region, crude prices surged and most equities tumbled while the safe-haven commodity, gold, hit a more than six-year high in early trading Monday.
AFP and AP contributed to this story.