Iran considering assassinating US ambassador to South Africa for retribution over Soleimani killing, reports claim

Griffin Connolly
Monday 14 September 2020 20:33 BST
Huge crowds surround funeral procession of Soleimani as it moves through Kerman, Iran

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Louise Thomas

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Iran has considered an assassination attempt against the US ambassador to South Africa as a retaliatory measure against the US for its drone strike in January that killed Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani.

The ambassador, Lana Marks, a longtime friend of Donald Trump who was unanimously confirmed to her post by the Senate in 2019, has been informed of the potential plot, Politico reported, citing two anonymous sources, one of whom was “familiar with the issue” or another who had seen intelligence suggesting the potential assassination.

For months, Iran has been weighing different ways to retaliate against the American drone strike that took out Mr Soleimani and at least six others in Iraq on 3 January.

Mr Soleimani for years was seen as the main and most dangerous opponent by Iran's adversaries in the Middle East and beyond. Inside the country, many people viewed him as a national hero. As the leader of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), he had survived several attempts to kill him by western, Israeli and Arab states over the past two decades.

The Quds force that Mr Soleimani commanded before his death oversees Iran’s military operations outside its own borders. The unit has frequently supported proxy militias that were adversaries of US-backed groups in the region, though it has seldom directly engaged American troops. In April 2019, however, the US State Department accused Mr Soleimani’s units of killing more than 600 American soldiers over the course of the Iraq War.

In 2018, former FBI agent and national security analyst Ali Soufan wrote of Mr Soleimani: "More than anyone else, Soleimani has been responsible for the creation of an arc of influence — which Iran terms its 'Axis of Resistance' — extending from the Gulf of Oman through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.''

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo characterised the drone strike against Mr Soleimani as a step to re-establish deterrence after a tumultuous year of confrontations between the two countries.

Iran subsequently launched a rocket strike against a joint US-Iraq airbase, injuring more than 100 US troops but killing none.

US officials believe a plan for an attack against Ms Marks has been in Iran’s back pocket since the spring, but that it has become more specific in recent weeks, Politico reported.

The publication reported that intelligence officials are unsure why Iran is potentially targeting Ms Marks, who does not have any known links to the country.

Ms Marks was born in South Africa and speaks Xhosa and Afrikaans, two languages native to the region. She has known Mr Trump for decades, and was a member of his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

She made her fortune as the designer of an eponymous high-end fashion line known most prominently for its leather handbags.

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