Iran is reportedly exploring avenues of retaliation against the United States government for killing Qassem Soleimani, the top Iranian military commander who met his maker upon being targeted by a drone strike in Iraq earlier this year.
What are the details?
American intelligence sources indicate the Iranian government is considering a plot to assassinate Lana Marks, the U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Politico reported.
According to the report, U.S. officials have been aware of Iran's plans since the spring. But the country, which is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism, has begun concentrating on the plan to murder Marks, with details becoming more specific over recent weeks.
One U.S. official told Politico that Iran's embassy in South Africa is involved in the plot.
However, intelligence officials are not certain why Iran has set its sights on Marks, whom Politico noted has no known ties to Iran. Marks, a successful businesswoman, does have close ties to President Donald Trump, though, and has been a member of the Mar-a-Lago club for more than two decades.
The ambassador is reportedly aware of the threat against her life.
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Still, attacking Marks is one of several options U.S. officials believe Iran's regime is considering for retaliation since the general, Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike in January. At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. killed Soleimani to re-establish deterrence against Iran.
An intelligence community directive known as "Duty to Warn" requires U.S. spy agencies to notify a potential victim if intelligence indicates their life could be in danger; in the case of U.S. government officials, credible threats would be included in briefings and security planning. Marks has been made aware of the threat, the U.S. government official said. The intelligence also has been included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as the WIRe, a classified product that is accessible to senior policy and security officials across the U.S. government, as well as certain lawmakers and their staff.
It was not immediately clear what alternative methods of retaliation Iran is weighing.
Marks was confirmed by the Senate to her diplomatic post last year. She officially assumed office in January, weeks after Soleimani's death.
What's the background?
The U.S. government shocked the world when it confirmed on Jan. 2 that a drone strike targeting Soleimani, the leader of Iran's elite Quds Force, was successful. Even more surprising, the strike happened near the Baghdad airport in Iraq.
Iran immediately vowed retaliation and cashed in that threat on two occasions — once in January and once in March. The first attack did not result in American casualties, but the second, which was carried out by Iran-backed militia in Iraq, resulted in the deaths of two Americans.
The U.S. then retaliated for that attack, targeting multiple Iran-backed militias with airstrikes.
All then remained relatively calm in the region as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the world, and Iran in particular.