US officials said briefed on security threat, possibly tied to Soleimani killing

FBI, CIA, military personnel informed of danger to Pentagon leaders on home soil following incident involving Iranian national in US, NBC News reports

Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC Quds Force, attends an annual rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, in Tehran, Iran, February 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

US security officials were briefed last month about a threat to senior military leaders on US soil, possibly in retaliation to the US killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in January, according to a Friday report.

FBI, CIA and military officials received a briefing on the threat following an incident involving an Iranian national in the US, NBC News reported, citing five senior US officials with knowledge of the matter.

Some of the sources said the threat against senior Pentagon officials may be related to Soleimani’s killing, but did not say there was a definite connection. The sources said the officials being targeted were military leaders tied to the assassination, the report said.

The officials were also informed of a list put together by foes of the US that includes the names of military leaders being targeted.

The report comes as US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visits the Middle East and India, including a stop in Israel. Information about his visit was kept more guarded than usual, indicating potential security fears.

The briefings on the threat took place following an incident on September 22 when a defense official in the US was tailed by a vehicle driven by an Iranian national. The driver followed the defense official, sometimes driving aggressively, for five to seven miles, before the official’s security detail managed to evade the Iranian driver. It’s unclear whether the incident represented a serious threat.

The report’s sources did not say if the driver had been questioned or put in custody. It was also unknown whether US President Donald Trump had been informed of the threat.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike, in the city of Kerman, Iran, January 7, 2020. (Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief said that Tehran will avenge the killing of Soleimani by targeting those involved in an “honorable” retaliation.

The guard’s website quoted General Hossein Salami as saying, “Mr. Trump! Our revenge for martyrdom of our great general is obvious, serious and real.”

The powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is designated a terrorist organization by the US.

Trump warned last month that Washington would harshly respond to any Iranian attempts to take revenge for the death of Soleimani, tweeting that “if they hit us in any way, any form, written instructions already done we’re going to hit them 1000 times harder.”

The president’s warning came in response to a report that Iran was plotting to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing at Baghdad’s airport.

In this 2012 file photo, Lana Marks and her husband, Dr. Neville Marks, are shown at the 2012 Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County, Inc. Bell Society Dinner at The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida (Meghan McCarthy/Palm Beach Post via AP)

Salami rejected the report of the plot to assassinate Marks, but made clear that Iran intends to avenge the general’s death.

In January, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq in response to the drone strike against Soleimani.

A separate report last month said that American intelligence reports indicated Iran has avoided strong military action against the US because it believes restraint will help prevent Trump’s reelection.

Joe Biden, who leads in polls ahead of Tuesday’s election, supports diplomacy with Iran and backed an accord negotiated under former president Barack Obama, under which Tehran sharply curtailed its nuclear work in exchange for promises of sanctions relief.

Trump has stepped up economic pressure on Iran with sanctions since he pulled the United States out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

Tehran has continued to expand its stockpile of enriched uranium and pressured other nations to offset the harm of US sanctions, while insisting it does not want to develop a nuclear weapon.

Satellite images released this week showed Iran has begun construction at its Natanz nuclear facility, just as the UN’s nuclear agency acknowledged Tehran was building an underground advanced centrifuge assembly plant after its last one exploded in a reported sabotage attack last summer.

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