On Friday, a top United States State Department official told reporters that he had seen “very solid intelligence” that top Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani was planning “imminent attacks against American diplomats and our armed forces.” That intelligence, the State Department says, is why Donald Trump ordered the drone strike that killed Soleimani late on Thursday.
But according to reporting by New York Times terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, the evidence that Soleimani had an “imminent” attack in the works was far from “very solid.” In fact, the evidence supporting the Trump administration claim is “razor thin,” she reported, based on her conversations with U.S. officials and other sources.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday became the first Trump administration official to claim publicly that the killing of Soleimani was carried out to stop an “imminent attack.” But Pompeo did not detail any evidence to support his claim.
Callimachi posted her reporting to Twitter on Saturday. Her report may be read in its entirety via Thread Reader.
One official called the administration’s conclusion that Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack “an illogical leap,” based only on three general pieces of intelligence.
One piece of intelligence found that Soleimani had been frequently traveling to Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq, where he met with Iranian “proxy” militia groups. But such travel was simply “business as usual” for the Iranian general, according to Callimachi’s sources.
A second intelligence point revealed that Soleimani recently sought the approval of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to carry out some sort of operation. While a meeting in Tehran with Khamenei was “a big deal,” according to Callimachi’s reporting, it also “could be anything.”
Finally, Iran’s “increasingly bellicose position” toward U.S. interests in the region framed the interpretation that Soleimani was planning a major attack, according to the New York Times reporter.
But the three factors together were “hardly evidence of an imminent attack,” according to a source who spoke to Callimachi.
Her reporting also found that the administration’s planning for the attack on Soleimani was “chaotic.” Initially, the option of assassinating the top Iranian general was considered “far out.” But after protesters widely believed to be backed by Iran stormed the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on December 30, Trump changed his mind and decided to order the death of Soleimani, according to Callimachi’s reporting.
On Saturday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned that the U.S. had committed a “grave mistake” by killing Soleimani, and that Americans would “face the consequences of this criminal act not only today, but also in the coming years,” as quoted by CNN.
Also on Saturday, hundreds of mourners marched in a funeral procession for Soleimani in Baghdad, Iraq. The crowds chanted “Death to America,” according to the CNN report.