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Exclusive: U.S. government warns that Iran may try to kill American officials as revenge for killing top general

·Investigative Correspondent
·6-min read
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The U.S. government believes that Iran may try to assassinate current or former senior American officials to avenge the death more than two years ago of its top military and intelligence commander, according to an intelligence report obtained by Yahoo News.

In January 2020, the Trump administration conducted a drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was on a trip to Iraq. Since then, the regime in Tehran has threatened revenge against those it deems responsible and has made a series of threats and started legal proceedings against U.S. officials.

As President Biden begins his trip to the Middle East, the U.S. government believes the threat of an attack is still high.

President Biden, in sunglasses, descends red-carpeted stairs, with the presidential seal visible on the plane.
President Biden descends from Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel on Wednesday. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

“The Iranian regime is waging a multipronged campaign — including threats of lethal action, international legal maneuvering, and the issuance of Iranian arrest warrants and sanctions — against select US officials to avenge the death of IRGC-QF Commander Soleimani in January 2020, raising the threat at home and abroad for those Iran views as responsible for the killing,” the report states.

IRGC-QF stands for Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, which is part of Iran's military.

The National Counterterrorism Center, which produced the June intelligence report, declined to comment. The U.S. Secret Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Since January 2021, Tehran has publicly expressed a willingness to conduct lethal operations inside the United States and has consistently identified former President Donald Trump, former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, and former CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie as among its priority targets for retribution,” the report says. “Iran would probably view the killing or prosecution of a US official it considers equivalent in rank and stature to Soleimani or responsible for his death as successful retaliatory actions.”

Qassem Soleimani, in uniform, beard and mustache, surrounded by other military officials.
Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani at a meeting with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Tehran in 2016. (Pool/Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News, and Pompeo did not respond to text messages and emails seeking comment. McKenzie also did not respond to messages sent through a university he is affiliated with.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is contemplating reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal established under President Barack Obama, which Trump dismantled.

The intelligence report, which is marked “Not for Public Release” and “For Official Use Only,” is dated June 16, 2022, two days after the White House officially announced Biden’s trip to the Middle East.

Biden landed in Israel Wednesday for the first part of the trip, after which he is expected to fly to Saudi Arabia.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie in full military regalia at the microphone.
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, testifies before the House Armed Services Committee in September 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters)

On Monday, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, announced Iranian plans to provide missiles and training to Russia in support of its war against Ukraine. Biden’s trip to the Middle East is the first of his presidency, and he is expected to try to rally support against Iran, and to try to calm tensions in the region.

The intelligence bulletin obtained by Yahoo News appears to be part of the Biden administration’s broader efforts to call attention to the threat posed by the Iranian regime and to garner support from policymakers across the aisle and others.

A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment on the document itself, but said in a statement to Yahoo News that the U.S. “will protect and defend its citizens,” including “those serving the United States now and those who formerly served.”

The NSC also said that a “mutual return” to full implementation of the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, remains “in America’s national interest. It is the best available option to restrict Iran’s nuclear program and provide a platform to address Iran’s destabilizing conduct.”

Michael Pompeo at a podium, with a sign in the background reading: Welcome to CPAC 2022.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., in February. (Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The June intelligence bulletin was widely circulated inside the government and to law enforcement nationwide. It is based on an analysis of statements and other actions taken by the Iranian regime, and describes foiled plots to assassinate government officials and legal maneuvers and threats against specific U.S. officials.

The intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies have been concerned about retaliatory attacks from Iran in response to the death of Soleimani, and such concerns date back even before then.

Yahoo News previously reported that concerns about retaliatory attacks after Soleimani's death against officials involved in the strike against him prompted Congress to appropriate $15 million for security for departing Secretary of State Pompeo and others.

“Soleimani was the chief architect of Iran’s regional policy, and more importantly, the personal connective tissue between terrorists abroad and Tehran,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an expert on Iran and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump bellowing at a podium, with an excited crowd behind him waving placards reading: Save America.
Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Anchorage, Alaska, on July 9. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“The U.S. blow against a figure like Soleimani remains an unhealed wound for the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism, with Tehran looking to wash blood away with blood. The fact that some U.S. officials need round-the-clock security due to the Islamic Republic's threats and operations should be a wake-up call to those who only see Tehran as a potential proliferation problem or a distant threat in the Middle East,” he told Yahoo News.

If the Biden administration thought Iran's desire for revenge would abate over time, it has not, according to the intelligence report. This raises questions about how Biden plans to negotiate with a regime trying to kill U.S. government officials.

“It is baffling how the administration is trying to negotiate a deal with a government that has a river of terror threats against current and former U.S. officials,” Taleblu said.

In its statement, the NSC said the Biden administration and U.S. allies are “preparing equally for scenarios with and without a mutual return to full implementation of the [Iran nuclear deal]. The President will do what is in the best interests of U.S. national security.”

The intelligence bulletin is titled: Iran Pursuing Multipronged Retaliation Campaign against Select US Officials, with a timeline from 2020 to 2022 listing related events..
An intelligence report, dated June 16, 2022, that was obtained by Yahoo News.
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