TEHRAN — An explosion at a Revolutionary Guard Corps weapons depot near the Iranian capital killed 17 soldiers Saturday, Iranian state TV reported a Guard spokesman as saying.
Brig. Gen. Ramezan Sharif told the semi-official Fars news agency that an earlier announcement putting the death toll at 27 had been readjusted following the discovery of a “misprint.”
Firemen from several cities rushed to the scene to control a raging fire ignited by the explosion, which was felt by many people in Tehran, 30 miles to the east. Witnesses reported a thick black column of smoke rising from the site.
Sharif, the Guards spokesman, said the blast was accidental and occurred when ammunition was being transported at the Shahid Modarres base in the village of Bidgeneh, near the industrial city of Malard, Fars reported.
The base is a storage facility for rockets, the news agency said.
Among the dead was Revolutionary Guards commander Hassan Tehrani Moqadam, a rocket expert and specialist in long-range missile research, Fars reported. Moqadam taught at the Imam Hussein University, which is affiliated with the elite Guards Corps.
Sharif denied what he said were Western media reports that the accident had involved a nuclear warhead, saying the incident had nothing whatsoever to do “with a nuclear test, as claimed by Western media.”
The blast followed a sharp increase in recent years in explosions at industrial sites, key gas pipelines and Revolutionary Guard bases, which some here attribute to sabotage by the United States.
In October 2010, 18 servicemen were killed in an explosion at an ammunition depot on a Guard Corps base near the western city of Khorramabad.
In May, a blast at an oil refinery during a visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad killed four people.
Tension has escalated between Iran and the United States and Israel in recent days, following threats of attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities and possible retaliation for such a move.
Serjoie is a special correspondent. Erdbrink reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.