A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander killed in an explosion at an ammunition depot last week was testing an intercontinental missile when the blast happened, his brother was quoted by a government newspaper as saying today.
Hours later, he reportedly denied the comments.
The conflicting accounts reflect the extreme sensitivity in Iran about the explosion, which killed at least 21 people, including General Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was in charge of the country’s missile programme.
Iran said an accident caused the powerful blast on November 12, strongly rejecting Western suspicions that Israeli sabotage touched off the powerful explosion as a pre-emptive strike against weapons which could potentially hit the Jewish state.
Gen Moghaddam’s brother Mohammad – himself a Guard officer – was quoted by the government-run Iran newspaper as saying the blast occurred during testing of the long-range missile. He did not dispute that the explosion was accidental.
“He lost his life while doing a final test of the missile,” Mr Moghaddam said. “The project was in the final testing phase. It was related to an intercontinental ballistic missile... It was a completely hi-tech, confidential process.”
These key quotes were left out of the text printed by the newspaper. They appeared on the paper’s website early today, but were later deleted.
About the same time, the semi-official Fars news agency reported that Mr Moghaddam had denied making the comments and said the government-run newspaper ran quotes which were not his.
“Materials about intercontinental and ballistic missile are creations of themselves (paper). I’m sending a letter to Iran newspaper denying the quotes,” he was quoted as saying by the news agency, which is considered close to the Revolutionary Guard.
In a statement released after the explosion, the Guard said it would not forget Gen Moghaddam’s “effective role in the development of the country’s defence... and his efforts in launching and organising the Guard’s artillery and missile units.”
Gen Moghaddam headed a “self-sufficiency” unit of the Guard’s armaments section, it said.
In the interview, Mr Moghaddam said his brother had set up missile batteries for Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is strongly backed by Iran although Tehran denies it arms the group.
Hezbollah, also closely allied to Syria, fired rockets deep inside Israel during a conflict in 2006. This quote was also removed from the newspaper’s website.
Iran’s arsenal boasts missiles with a range of about 1,250 miles (2,000km) which were designed for Israeli and US targets. The missile capability, along with Iran’s nuclear programme, are among the reasons why Israel considers Iran its most dangerous enemy.
Mr Moghaddam said his brother was also involved in Iran’s space programme, assisting the rocket that took an Iranian satellite into orbit.
He did not elaborate, but said Hasan was favoured by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mohammad Tehrani Moghaddam himself was once Ayatollah Khamenei’s bodyguard.
The Guard initially said 17 Guard members were killed in the explosion. The semi-official Mehr news agency listed the names of 21 victims, prompting the military force to say some of those critically injured had succumbed to their wounds later.