(Bloomberg) -- Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the country's coronavirus outbreak could be part of a biological attack on the Islamic Republic, as he called on the armed forces to bolster the government's fight against the disease, according to a statement published by the semi-official Fars News agency.

In a letter addressed to the Chief of Staff of Iran's Armed Forces, Khamenei said he wants the military to work closely with Iran's health ministry and establish a base dedicated to countering the virus, which has already claimed 429 lives in the county.

"Given that there's evidence that raises the possibility of this event being a biological attack, this initiative can also be an exercise in biological defense," Khamenei said in the statement.

To contact the reporters on this story: Yasna Haghdoost in Beirut at yhaghdoost@bloomberg.net;Golnar Motevalli in London at gmotevalli@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at lnoueihed@bloomberg.net, Colin Keatinge

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