18 Guard members killed in Iran base blast

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The Independent Online

An explosion set off by a fire that had spread to the ammunition depot at a military base in western Iran has killed 18 members of the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard force, the state news agency reported today.

The IRNA news agency said 14 other Guard troops were wounded in the blast yesterday in the city of Khoramabad, some 300 miles (500 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Tehran. The injured were taken to hospitals in Khoramabad.

The report said the blast was caused by a fire that had reached the ammunition storage area, but there was no word on what had ignited the blaze. In their first reports of the blast late yesterday, most Iranian news agencies said the explosion was an accident.

Although Khoramabad has not seen violence recently, it is geographically close to Kurdish-populated areas that have seen several attacks in recent months by Kurds disgruntled with the central government.

Iran is battling armed militant and separatist movements in the remote southeast along the border with Pakistan and in the far northwest along the border with Iraq.

On September 22, a blast at a military parade in Mahabad, near Iraq, killed 12 people and prompted a cross-border retaliatory raid by Iranian forces. They blamed the attack on Kurdish separatists and followers of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.