A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander killed in an explosion at an ammunition depot last week was testing an intercontinental missile when the blast occurred, his brother was quoted by a government newspaper as saying Saturday. 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 Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was in charge of the country's missile program. Iran said an accident caused the powerful explosion Nov. 12, strongly rejecting Western suspicions that Israeli sabotage touched off the powerful explosion as a pre-emptive strike against weapons that could potentially hit the Jewish state.
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," Moghaddam said. "The project was in the final testing phase. It was related to an intercontinental ballistic missile. ... It was a completely high-tech, confidential process."
These key quotes were left out of the text printed by the newspaper. They appeared on the paper's website early Saturday, but were deleted later in the day.
About the same time, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported that Moghaddam had denied making the comments and said the government-run newspaper ran quotes that weren't 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 Moghaddam's "effective role in the development of the country's defense ... and his efforts in launching and organizing the Guard's artillery and missile units."
Moghaddam headed a "self-sufficiency" unit of the Guard's armaments section, it said.
In the interview, Mohammed Tehrani Moghaddam said that 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 (2,000 kilometers) that were designed for Israeli and U.S. targets. The missile capability, along with Iran's nuclear program, are among the reasons why Israel considers Iran its most dangerous enemy.
Moghaddam said his brother was also involved in Iran's space program, assisting the rocket that took an Iranian satellite into orbit.
He didn't elaborate, but said Hasan was favored by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mohammad Tehrani Moghaddam himself was once 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.