Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force who was killed Friday in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, had been plotting “imminent attacks” on U.S. facilities in the surrounding region that could have killed hundreds of Americans, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iran, said “solid intelligence” informed the administration’s belief that Soleimani was planning attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
“The President’s first responsibility is the safety of the American people. Qasem Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks in the region against Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon that could have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people,” Hook told Al Arabiya TV.
“The President has a constitutional responsibility to prevent those actions from killing Americans. He took an entirely lawful action,” Hook continued. “I have seen all of the intelligence that supports the decision. It was very solid intelligence.”
Soleimani was killed Thursday during a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad International Airport, along with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, founder of the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, which the administration blames for a rocket attack that killed a U.S. defense contractor at a U.S. military compound in northern Iraq last week.
The Pentagon said Thursday that Soleimani was “actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members” and was “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”
Soleimani also signed off on the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad this week that trapped American diplomats inside the embassy overnight, the Defense Department said. The riots were orchestrated by Shia militia groups that are supported by Iran and that formerly took direction from Soleimani in his role as the head of the Quds Force, which carries out external intelligence collection and paramilitary operations.
The administration plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops to the Middle East in the aftermath of Soleimani’s death.
President Trump defended the strike on Friday, saying the Iranian general was “hated and feared within the country” and “should have been taken out many years ago.”
Iran has vowed “harsh revenge” following the death of the top military general.