TEHRAN — Iran denied reports of a blast heard near a key nuclear facility on Tuesday, as new satellite pictures emerged of damage from an earlier explosion that left 17 dead at another location.
"In the afternoon, there was a noise like an explosion," provincial judiciary head Gholamreza Ansari was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency on Monday.
Mohammad-Mahdi Ismaili, Isfahan's deputy governor in political and security affairs, called the reports "sheer lies" on Tuesday, according the Jerusalem Post quoting the IRNA news agency.
An official from the city's fire department also denied that there had been an explosion, the newspaper said.
An important Iranian nuclear facility involved in processing uranium is located near Isfahan city, although Iranian media reports of the incident did not refer to it.
A report on the explosion was published on the website of the Iranian news agency Fars on Monday, including a picture showing a thick column of black smoke, but it was removed after the incident was reported in Israel, according to Israeli website Haaretz.
Haaretz reported that Ismaili initially confirmed the blast and said the authorities were investigating the matter before later issuing denials.
Analysts speculated that this or other recent blasts could be the result of sabotage by other countries.
“While it’s impossible to confirm, recent events in Iran raise suspicions,” Gala Riani, a Middle East analyst at London-based forecaster IHS Global Insight told Bloomberg.
She told Bloomberg it was possible that “foreign powers would want to carry out clandestine activity to sabotage Iran’s nuclear and military progress."
International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said the U.N. watchdog was aware of the media reports but had no further information.
On November 12, a massive explosion at the Bid Kaneh military base 28 miles west of Tehran killed 17 Revolutionary Guards, including the head of the elite force's missile program.
Iran said that explosion, which could be heard as far away as the capital, was caused by an accident while weapons were being moved.
The Washington D.C.-based think tank, the Institute for Science and International Security, on Monday published an analysis of commercial satellite imagery of the base.
It said images taken before and after the blast showed most of the buildings on the compound appeared to be extensively damaged while some appeared to have been completely destroyed.
“Some of the destruction seen in the image may have also resulted from subsequent controlled demolition of buildings and removal of debris,” it said.
It said the blast occurred as Iran “achieved a major milestone in the development of a new missile.”
“Iran was apparently performing a volatile procedure involving a missile engine at the site when the blast occurred,” it said.Reuters contributed to this report