Iran is plotting to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa as it seeks to further avenge the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the Politico news site reported Sunday.
The article, citing US intelligence reports seen by a US government official and another official familiar with the documents, said that Ambassador Lana Marks was likely chosen due to her closeness to US President Donald Trump.
Iran dismissed the allegation.
Iran has already retaliated for Soleimani’s killing in January, firing missiles at a US base in Iraq, to which the US did not respond. However, the killing of a US ambassador would likely push an already tense region to war.
US officials have said that Tehran was likely to seek to further avenge his death.
Marks, 66, a Palm Beach, Florida-based luxury fashion and handbag designer, is a long-time friend of the US president and was a member of Trump’s exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Florida before she was appointed ambassador in 2018.
Marks was born and raised in South Africa and was CEO of the Lana Marks Collections design firm, which caters to celebrities. Born Lana Banks, she grew up in the city of Port Elizabeth, where here family were prominent members of the city’s Jewish community.
Trump ordered the drone strike in Iraq on January 3 that killed Soleimani, the head of the extraterritorial Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and one of Iran’s most powerful officials. At the time, Trump said Soleimani was planning attacks against US troops in the region but White House officials have since given different justifications for the killing, including deterrence.
In response to the drone strike, Iran fired volleys of ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing US troops. There were no reported casualties at the time but it has since been revealed that dozens of soldiers developed brain injuries from the blasts.
However, the report said that Iran still sought further revenge and was considering several targets, including the killing of Marks.
Politico said Marks had been informed of the threats against her, which reportedly involved the Iranian embassy in South Africa.
The report said that US officials have been aware of a general threat against Marks since the spring, but the threat had become more specific in recent weeks.
The report also noted that Iran runs a clandestine operation in South Africa and Marks may be more vulnerable than envoys in other countries, where the US has better security coordination with local authorities.
The strike on Soleimani exacerbated already high tensions between the US and Iran which have been steadily escalating since Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear accord. The agreement, negotiated under the US administration of Barack Obama, had imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
The US has since imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country into an economic crisis that has ignited several waves of sporadic, leaderless protests.
Open action by Iran against the US would be a significant departure from the usual methods of the Islamic Republic, which in that past has preferred to use regional proxies to see through its plans.
Iran-backed terror groups have often targeted civilians.
One such case was the 2012 Lebanese Hezbollah terror group attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in revenge for the killing by Israel of one of the Iran-backed group’s leaders.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Monday denied the Politico report: “Such baseless remarks are part of the Trump administration’s counter-intelligence campaign against Iran. The US regime’s resort to allegations and lies against Iran on the threshold of the US presidential election and concurrent with its pressures to use the UN Security Council mechanisms with the aim of increasing pressure on the Iranian nation was predictable,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to the semi-state Fars news site.