TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi vowed revenge against Donald Trump unless the former US president is tried over the killing of Qassem Soleimani, as Tehran marked two years since the revered commander’s death.
The Islamic Republic and its allies across the Middle East held emotional commemorations for General Soleimani and his Iraqi lieutenant who were assassinated in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on January 3, 2020.
Tehran’s enemies were targeted on the day of the anniversary in unclaimed drone and cyber attacks — with two armed unmanned aerial vehicles intercepted by the US-led coalition in Iraq over Baghdad airport, and hackers attacking Israeli media sites.
Soleimani headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, with links to armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza Strip, Syria and Yemen. The Quds force is designated by a number of countries as a terrorist organization, including the US and Israel.
Raisi, addressing Tehran’s largest prayer hall, said: “The aggressor and the main assassin, the then president of the United States, must face justice and retribution” alongside former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo “and other criminals.”
“Otherwise, I will tell all US leaders that without a doubt the hand of revenge will emerge from the sleeve of the Muslim nation.”
Trump — under whom tensions over Iran’s nuclear program escalated, leading to a new and painful sanctions regime on Tehran — ordered the assassination, which brought the enemies to the brink of a direct military confrontation.
Washington said at the time that Soleimani was planning imminent action against US personnel in Iraq, a war-battered country long torn between principal allies Washington and Tehran.
The nighttime strike destroyed a convoy carrying Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy leader of the Hashed al-Shaabi coalition of pro-Iranian armed groups, and others.
Iran responded days later by firing missiles at bases hosting US troops in Iraq. No one was killed but Washington said dozens suffered traumatic brain injuries.
Amid the heightened tensions Iran also accidentally downed a Ukrainian passenger jet on January 8, 2020, killing all 176 people aboard.
Soleimani’s funeral drew millions, and his martyr’s portrait can now be seen on streets, in squares and on buildings from Tehran to southern Lebanon and Gaza.
Commemorations were held this year across Iran as well as at Baghdad airport, in the Iraqi Shiite holy city of Najaf, in Gaza City and elsewhere.
Before dawn on Monday, two armed drones targeted a Baghdad airport site used by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
“Two fixed-wing suicide drones, or improvised cruise missiles, attempted to attack Baghdad Airport this morning at approximately 4:30 a.m.,” a coalition official told AFP in the Iraqi capital.
A counter-rocket, artillery and mortar, or C-RAM, system “engaged them and they were shot down without incident,” added the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Photos obtained by AFP from the coalition official show remains of one of the drones, with the message “commanders’ revenge operations” written on it.
‘Close to you’
Hackers also attacked media in Iran’s other sworn enemy country, Israel, with a threatening message that appeared linked to the Soleimani killing.
The website of the English-language Jerusalem Post and the Twitter account of Hebrew-language Maariv were taken over with a picture of a fist firing a shell out of a ring with a red stone, like one Soleimani used to wear.
The Jerusalem Post said its website was hacked to feature an image of a model of Israel’s Dimona nuclear facility being blown up, along with the message “we are close to you where you do not think about it” in English and Hebrew.
Israel fears Iran’s nuclear program aims to acquire weapons to harm the Jewish state, and the two countries regularly issue hints threatening strikes against one another.
In the Hamas-ruled Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, a ceremony was held Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the killings.
The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, Hassan Nasrallah, also paid tribute to the Iranian and Iraqi commanders, calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.
“Ignoring… the presence of American forces in Iraq constitutes a new murder of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis,” he said in a televised speech on Monday.
“Loyalty towards these martyrs… is to ensure there are no more occupying forces in Iraq,” he added.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this article.