Blast hit near sus­pected mis­sile site, satel­lite shows

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - WORLD - By Jon Gam­brell Jon Gam­brell is an Associated Press writer.

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — An ex­plo­sion that rat­tled Iran’s cap­i­tal came from an area in its east­ern moun­tains that an­a­lysts be­lieve hides an un­der­ground tun­nel sys­tem and mis­sile pro­duc­tion sites, satel­lite pho­to­graphs showed Satur­day.

What ex­ploded in the in­ci­dent early Fri­day that sent a mas­sive fire­ball into the sky near Tehran re­mains un­clear, as does the cause of the blast.

The un­usual re­sponse of the

Ira­nian gov­ern­ment in the af­ter­math of the ex­plo­sion, how­ever, un­der­scores the sen­si­tive na­ture of an area near where in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors be­lieve the Is­lamic Repub­lic con­ducted high­ex­plo­sive tests two decades ago for nu­clear weapon trig­gers.

The blast shook homes, rat­tled win­dows and lit up the hori­zon in the Al­borz Moun­tains. State TV later aired a seg­ment from what it de­scribed as the site of the blast.

One of its jour­nal­ists stood in front of what ap­peared to be large, black­ened gas cylin­ders, though the cam­era re­mained tightly fo­cused and did not show any­thing else around the site. De­fense Min­istry spokesman Davood Abdi blamed the blast on a leak­ing gas he did not iden­tify and said no one was killed in the ex­plo­sion.

Abdi de­scribed the site as a “pub­lic area,” rais­ing the ques­tion of why mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and not civil­ian fire­fight­ers would be in charge. The state TV re­port did not address the is­sue.

Satel­lite pho­tos of the area, about 12.5 miles east of down­town Tehran, showed hun­dreds of yards of charred scrub­land not seen in im­ages of the area taken in the weeks ahead of the in­ci­dent. The build­ing near the char marks re­sem­bled the fa­cil­ity seen in the state TV footage.

The gas stor­age area sits near what an­a­lysts de­scribe as Iran’s Kho­jir mis­sile fa­cil­ity. The ex­plo­sion ap­pears to have struck a fa­cil­ity for the Shahid Bak­eri In­dus­trial Group, which makes solid­pro­pel­lant rock­ets, said Fabian Hinz, a re­searcher at the James Martin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies at the Mid­dle­bury In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Mon­terey.

Western con­cerns over the Ira­nian atomic pro­gram led to sanc­tions and even­tu­ally to Tehran’s 2015 nu­clear deal with world pow­ers. The U.S. un­der Pres­i­dent Trump with­drew from the ac­cord in May 2018, lead­ing to a se­ries of es­ca­lat­ing at­tacks be­tween Iran and the U.S. and Tehran aban­don­ing the deal’s pro­duc­tion lim­its.

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