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Officials: Iran weighs plot to kill US ambassador to South Africa

However, attacking Marks is one of several options US officials believe the Iranian regime is considering in retaliation since the general, Qassem Soleimani, was murdered by a US drone strike in January. At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had killed Soleimani to re-establish deterrence against Iran.

An intelligence community directive known as “Duty to Warn” requires US intelligence agencies to notify a potential victim if intelligence indicates that their life may be in danger; in the case of US government officials, credible threats would be included in security briefings and planning. Marks has been made aware of the threat, the US government official said. Intelligence has also been included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as WIRe, a classified product accessible to senior policy and security officials across the United States government, as well as some lawmakers and their staff.

Marks, 66, was sworn in as US ambassador last October. He has known Trump for more than two decades and is a member of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Critics of Trump have mocked her as a “bag designer,”

; but her supporters retort that she is a successful business woman – her eponymous bags cost up to $ 40,000 – with numerous international connections. A personal friend of the late Princess Diana, she too was born in South Africa and speaks some of the country’s key languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.

The intelligence community isn’t exactly sure why Iranians should target Marks, who has few, if any, known ties to Iran. It’s possible the Iranians have considered his longstanding friendship with Trump, the US government official said.

The Iranian government also operates clandestine networks in South Africa, officials noted, and has had a foothold there for decades. In 2015, Al Jazeera and The Guardian reported leaked intelligence documents detailing an extensive secret network of Iranian agents in South Africa. Brands may also be an easier target for US diplomats in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe, where the US has stronger relationships with local law enforcement and intelligence services.

Iranian Islamist leaders have a history of killing beyond their country’s borders, as well as taking hostages, since they took power following a popular uprising in the late 1970s. In recent decades, Iran has generally avoided targeting US diplomats directly, although Iranian-backed militias have long attacked US diplomatic facilities and personnel in Iraq.

Trump claimed after Soleimani’s killing that the Iranian general had planned attacks on US diplomatic missions, although US officials later questioned his claims. “They were trying to blow up our embassy,” Trump said in January, referring to the massive and heavy US diplomatic complex in Iraq. Later, in an interview with Fox News, he said: “I can reveal that I think it probably would have been four embassies.”

Days after Soleimani’s death, Iran launched a volley of ballistic missiles at a military base in Iraq that housed US forces, causing traumatic brain injuries among dozens of American troops. Trump refused to fight back and said, “Iran appears to have pulled out, which is good for all stakeholders and good for the world” – although he has announced new sanctions on the Iranian regime and put it in place. guard against further retaliatory moves.

Some analysts, however, said at the time that Iran would likely seek other ways to avenge Soleimani’s death. General Kenneth McKenzie, chief of the US central command, was topping the Iranian hit list earlier this year, according to media reports. Last month McKenzie said he expected a new “response” from Iran to the continued American presence in Iraq.

“I don’t know what the nature of that response will be, but we will certainly be ready for that if it happens,” he said. On Wednesday, McKenzie confirmed plans to reduce the presence of US troops in Iraq from 5,200 to 3,000 by the end of September.

During an online forum in August, McKenzie said Iran is “our central problem” in the region, and acknowledged that the danger of Iranian delegates in Iraq had complicated US efforts against ISIS, the organization. and the radical Sunni terrorist movement. “The threat against our forces by Shiite militant groups has prompted us to put resources that we would otherwise use against ISIS to provide our defense and that has lowered our ability to work effectively against them,” he said.

The White House-based National Security Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither an Iranian official with Iran’s mission to the United Nations, nor an official from the South African embassy in Washington. Spokespeople for the State Department, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

The United States and Iran have been bitter enemies for decades, sometimes confronting each other openly – and other times they engage cautiously in diplomacy – but more often they wage a dark battle for power and influence across the Middle East. broad. Under Trump, the two countries have veered into full-blown military conflict on more than one occasion.

Last summer, the United States blamed Iran and its delegates for a series of explosions aimed at oil tankers. Iran shot down a US drone and the US later managed to shoot down an Iranian drone.

Trump acknowledged that after Iran shot down the U.S. drone, it nearly authorized a direct strike on Iranian soil, but held off after being told 150 people could die – a tribute he said it was disproportionate.

The dispute between the countries deepened in the following months, especially in Iraq, where America and the United States have long been engaged in the proxy war. In December, an American contractor was killed in Iraq after an attack by an Iranian allied militia. The United States reacted by bombing the sites held by the group, killing about two dozen of its fighters. Shortly thereafter, protesters believed militia-related people had breached parts of the US embassy complex in Baghdad.

Then, in early January, the United States staged an air strike that killed Soleimani while he was visiting Baghdad. It was a major escalation given Soleimani’s importance in Iran, even though US officials have described it as a defensive measure.

Soleimani led the Quds Force, a unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that oversees much of the country’s military activities outside its borders. The Americans blame him for the deaths of numerous US troops in the region.

Iran has promised to take revenge. His first major move was the January 8 missile attack on the al-Asad military base in Iraq. But around the same time, an Iranian missile shot down a civilian airliner, killing 176 people and causing fury within Iran over the regime’s incompetence and shifting the explanations for the incident, along with the condemnation to ‘abroad.

Iran and South Africa have cooperated on several fronts in recent decades, including at the United Nations, where South Africa has at times supported Iran. South Africa’s uranium deposits are believed to have been of great interest to Iran as it was stepping up its nuclear program, which Tehran has always insisted was intended for peaceful energy purposes, not a bomb. The couple are also in a military relationship, having signed some basic defense pacts.

Strange Iranian-related plots have been uncovered earlier.

Almost a decade ago, the United States arrested and ultimately sentenced to jail an Iranian-American man who allegedly tried to hire Mexican drug cartel assassins to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States while having lunch at Cafe Milano, a elegant Washington restaurant. frequented by the rich and powerful of the city. The United States accused Soleimani of overseeing the plot.

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