Qasem Soleimani: Democrats question Trump’s embassy attacks claim

Media captionPompeo: “Imminent threat included attacks on US embassies”

Democrats are demanding information about President Donald Trump’s claim an Iranian general killed by the US was planning attacks on US embassies.

Mr Trump first made the claim at the White House on Thursday. He repeated it in Ohio during his first campaign rally of 2020.

Democrats briefed on the strike that killed Gen Qasem Soleimani say they have seen no evidence of embassy plots.

The US secretary of state, however, said there was clear evidence.

“I don’t know exactly which minute. We don’t know exactly which day it would have been executed,” Mike Pompeo said at a White House briefing, referring to the alleged plot on US forces.

“But it was very clear. Qasem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large scale attack against American interests. And those attacks were imminent,” Mr Pompeo said, adding that they were “against American facilities including American embassies and military bases”.

“We had specific information on an imminent threat and those included attacks on US embassies. Period, full stop,” he said.

In other developments

  • The US has authorised new sanctions on Iran
  • The Islamic State (IS) group issued a statement hailing the death of Soleimani as an act of divine intervention that benefited jihadists

What did Trump say?

Speaking at an environmental event at the White House on Thursday, Mr Trump told reporters that he authorised the attack because Iran was “looking to blow up our embassy”.

He also called it “obvious” that the protesters that attacked the US embassy in Baghdad days before Soleimani’s death were organised by Iran.

“And you know who organised it. That man right now is not around any longer. Okay? And he had more than that particular embassy in mind.”

Iraqi security forces guard the US embassy in Baghdad
Image captionIraqi security forces guard the US embassy in Baghdad

In Ohio later, Mr Trump told a packed arena that “Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad”.

He also mocked Democrats who complained that the White House did not provide proper notification to lawmakers, saying that Democrats would have leaked the US military plans to the media.

What evidence is there?

Mr Trump referred to the US embassy protests as evidence of an imminent Iranian plot. However, those protests had ended by the time the US launched a drone attack on Soleimani’s motorcade at the Baghdad airport.

House Armed Services committee chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat, said there was “no evidence” of a future Iranian bombing attack on a US embassy presented during a classified White House briefing given to lawmakers on Wednesday.

“Nobody that I’ve talked to in any setting, and I’ve talked to quite a few people in the White House, has said that,” he told Politico.

“It has been communicated to me that there weren’t specific targets, that the intel that we had did not cite specific targets, just more of a broad thing,” he said.

“So if the president had evidence of the specific target, that has not been communicated to us.”

Bernie Sanders
Image captionSenator Bernie Sanders says Mr Trump is a “liar” who cannot be trusted

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a frontrunner to take on Mr Trump in November’s election, said Mr Trump could not be trusted.

“The difficulty that we have, and I don’t mean to be rude here, is that we have a president who is a pathological liar,” he told NBC News.

“So could it be true? I guess it could be. Is it likely to be true? Probably not,” he added.

Democrats are not the only ones who have appeared to grow frustrated by the lack of details from the White House regarding why Soleimani’s death was urgently required.

Media captionDo Americans feel safer after Soleimani attack?

Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee slammed the White House briefing as “insulting” and “completely unacceptable”.

He called the briefing a “drive-by notification or after-the-fact, lame briefing”, adding that officials “struggled to identify” any reason that the White House would ever co-ordinate with Congress on military actions.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives voted to limit Mr Trump’s ability to wage war on Iran.

New sanctions

On Friday, the White House authorised new sanctions against Iran that were designed to “stop the Iranian regime’s global terrorist activities,” US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said.

He said the penalties would affect Iran’s construction, manufacturing and mining industries. Mr Pompeo said the targets were Iran’s “inner security apparatus”.

In a statement, Mr Trump called Iran the “world’s leading sponsor of terrorism” and vowed to counter Iranian threats “until the Iranian regime changes its behaviour”.

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