A large, powerful explosion Monday reportedly rocked the Iranian central city of Isfahan, the country’s third largest city and home one of the country’s nuclear facilities. It immediately touched off speculation that saboteurs had damaged the nuclear plant.
Alarmed residents were said to have called the fire department after the blast, but a senior Iranian official denied an explosion occurred at all. He told an Iranian news agency that the report was completely baseless and fabricated. His statement, however, conflicted with that of the governor of Isfahan, who was quoted as saying the blast was from of a military exercise.
One of the first news agencies to report the explosion was Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, which said it was loud enough to be heard throughout the city of 1.5 million.
Reports of the explosion came just about two weeks after an explosion at a military site outside of Bidganeh village, about 25 miles southwest of Tehran. It reportedly killed about 20 members of Iran’s revolutionary guards, including Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, described as the architect of Iran’s missile program. Iranian officials at the time insisted the explosion was caused by an accident and was not sabotage.
In recent years, however, Iran’s quest to develop nuclear and missile programs have been the subject of numerous covert attacks, including a computer virus that destroyed hundreds of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium, and the deaths of several senior nuclear scientists.