By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times
CAIRO – It was first reported as a grenade, then a bomb and finally a harmless firecracker. But whatever was tossed toward Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s motorcade Wednesday, news of the incident went viral across the Internet as his government quickly denied an assassination attempt.
Discounting speculation that swept the country, Iran’s state-run Press TV said that a source in the president’s office “rejected as false the reports of a grenade attack” on Ahmadinejad. Other Iranian media said a firecracker or a repercussion explosive, commonly set off at festivals, had been tossed about 100 yards from the motorcade.
International news agencies had reported that the convoy was traveling from the airport in the western city of Hamedan to a sports stadium when a bomb exploded, injuring several people. Ahmadinejad was not hurt. Reuters, quoting a source in the president’s office, said one person had been arrested.
The story spread from blogs to websites to international satellite TV channels. The conservative Iranian news agency Mehr said “contrary to the negative atmosphere created by some Western media … eyewitnesses have stressed that a homemade (noise) bomb exploded faraway” from the president’s car. The agency added that smoke spread over the area and a number of people had been arrested.
Not wanting to spark instability and upset financial markets, the Iranian government, as if reciting a mantra, repeated: firecracker. The Iranian Student News Agency reported that a firecracker was set off by a “young man who wanted to express his enthusiasm” at the president’s arrival. Ahmadinejad waved and continued to the stadium, where he gave a televised speech to the nation and made no reference to the incident.
The news agency alluded to what may have put the wrong message out to begin with: “Unfortunately, a number of domestic media reported it as explosion of hand grenade, causing ambiguity.”
The president’s popularity has been strained by a high unemployment, a troubled economy and a new round of international sanctions aimed to the country’s nuclear program. Earlier this week he told a conference that Israel was trying to kill him, insisting that “the stupid Zionists have hired mercenaries to assassinate me.’ “