TEHRAN, Iran — A bomb exploded at a military parade in northwestern Iran on Wednesday, killing 12 spectators in an attack that one official blamed on Kurdish separatists who have fought Iranian forces in the area for decades.
The blast in the city of Mahabad, close to the borders with Iraq and Turkey, also wounded 75 people, Iranian media reports said. Most of the victims were women and children, said provincial Governor Vahid Jalalzadeh, who was quoted in a report by Iran's state broadcasting company.
Iranian forces in the border zone have clashed for years with Kurdish rebels from the Iranian wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which also has fighters based in Turkey and Iraq. The group in Iran has generally not targeted civilians in its campaign for greater rights for the Kurdish minority, raising the prospect that the bomb might have gone off prematurely.
A state radio report said the device was detonated on a timer and had been placed under a bush near the parade route. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
But Jalalzadeh told state TV the explosion was carried out by "counterrevolutionaries," a reference to the Kurdish separatist group. He called the bombing "a terrorist incident" and claimed it had the backing of foreign governments.
"This move has a foreign root. The U.S. and its allies are present in the region," he said.
Iranian officials have frequently accused the U.S., Britain and other Western powers of stoking disorder in the country, including the unrest that swept Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009.
Britain's foreign minister condemned Wednesday's attack. "This horrific bombing underlines the need to stand together against terrorism wherever it rears its head," Alistair Burt said in a written statement.
State TV broadcast a short segment of video capturing the moment the blast shook the parade. It showed soldiers marching in front of a stage for VIPs as the sound of the explosion rang out. The area was left littered with debris and bits of torn clothing.
The footage also showed military personnel rushing to the blast site and injured women being treated in a hospital.
The head of Iran's Emergency Department, Gholamreza Masoumi, said the death toll had risen to 12 after two more people died in the hospital.
Iran's official IRNA news agency, citing hospital officials, said all of the dead were female, while the Mehr news agency said two of the victims were wives of ranking military officers. State TV said two of the dead were young children.
The parade was one of several held around the country to mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war. No military personnel were wounded, Jalalzadeh said.
"The explosion happened opposite the VIP stage among women who were present there," Jalalzadeh was quoted as saying in the state TV report.
The Iranian branch of the Kurdish rebel group, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, says it is fighting for greater rights in Iran.
The city of Mahabad is home to 190,000 people – most of them Kurds and Sunni Muslims. Iran is predominantly Shiite.
Mahabad was once the capital of the self-proclaimed republic of Kurdistan in Iran. Iran's armed forces recaptured Mahabad in 1946.
Government forces in Iraq, Iran and Turkey have all periodically battled with the Kurdish minorities straddling their borders. They fear the groups are seeking to unite territory in all three nations to form an independent Kurdish homeland.
The most active rebellion is in southeastern Turkey, where the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has fought for greater autonomy and civil rights since 1984 in a battle that has killed tens of thousands of people. They have sometimes operated from bases across the border in northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sparking a large-scale cross-border Turkish military campaign in February 2008 that involved airstrikes and ground troops.
The group in Iran is a wing of the PKK and also sometimes operates inside friendly territory in Iraqi Kurdistan. Like Turkey, Iran's military has attacked their bases on the other side of the border with occasional artillery strikes.
Inside Iran, their fight has mostly involved occasional roadside bombs and other attacks targeting security forces. Iranian authorities also linked the rebels to a terrorist cell whose members were arrested last month on suspicion of plotting to assassinate officials.
Associated Press writer David Stringer contributed to this report from London.