Iran is allegedly mulling over an attempt to assassinate the United States’ ambassador to South Africa as retaliation for the American drone attack earlier this year that killed Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force.
The news of Tehran’s purported plans was first reported by Politico, who spoke with one official familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the intelligence.
If Iran does attempt to carry out the assassination, it would severely ratchet up the already tense relations between Washington and Tehran, along with giving the Trump administration impetus to retaliate. The U.S. Embassy in Pretoria told Fox News it had no comment.
U.S. officials have been aware of threats against the ambassador, Lana Marks, since the spring, but intelligence suggests those threats have become more specific in recent weeks.
Marks is just one of several U.S. officials that American intelligence agencies believe Tehran is considering for retaliation for the killing of Soleimani.
An intelligence source told Fox News the intel community is taking the threat against the ambassador seriously and believe the Iranian regime potentially has the ability to act on an assassination plot.
Iran has in the past planned assassinations of American ambassadors — which is partly why the intelligence community is taking this particular threat assessment seriously.
The source said the intelligence assessment is if Iran attempted the assassination, it would represent a significant escalation. Intel agencies have believed Iran would seek retaliation for killing of Soleimani and have closely monitoring Iran plans, the source said.
Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in early January.
Soleimani is the military mastermind whom Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had deemed equally as dangerous as Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In October, Baghdadi killed himself during a U.S. raid on a compound in northwest Syria, seven months after the so-called ISIS “caliphate” crumbled as the terrorist group lost its final swath of Syrian territory in March.
In April 2019, the State Department announced Iran was responsible for killing 608 U.S. troops during the Iraq War. Soleimani was the head of the Iranian and Iranian-backed forces carrying out those operations killing American troops. According to the State Department, 17 percent of all deaths of U.S. personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 were orchestrated by Soleimani.
The drone strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, a source told Fox News.
In all, at least seven people were killed and at least three rockets were fired, officials told The Associated Press. An official with the Popular Mobilization Forces said its airport protocol officer, Mohammed Reda, also died.
Soleimani was the long-running leader of the elite intelligence wing called Quds Force – which itself has been a designated terror group since 2007, and is estimated to be 20,000 strong. Considered one of the most powerful men in Iran, he routinely was referred to as its “shadow commander” or “spymaster.”
The nighttime attack occurred amid tensions with the U.S. after an Iran-backed militia attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which was targeted at the end of December by angry mobs who were protesting recent U.S. airstrikes.
The two-day siege outside of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad came to an end after dozens of pro-Iran militiamen and their supporters withdrew from the compound.
Fox News’ Gillian Turner, Frank Miles and Paul Tilsley contributed to this report.