In what one United States senator writing on Twitter called “a war crime” and “what terrorists do,” Donald Trump on Saturday threatened that the United States would attack “52 Iranian sites” — many of them “important to Iran & the Iranian culture.” But a senior U.S. military official speaking on condition of anonymity said that he did not know of any such list of sites targeted by the U.S. military.
“There are different lists, depending on the nature of the possible targets — missile bases, nuclear facilities, naval bases, airfields, et cetera,” the military official told Time. But the official told the magazine that he was unaware of any list that totaled 52 targets, or that included cultural sites — such as Persepolis, the 2,300-year-old capital city of the ancient Persian empire.
The ruins of Persepolis still stand in southwestern Iran and have been designated a “World Heritage” site by the United Nations. Trump said that the supposed list of 52 sites was intended to symbolize “the 52 American hostages taken by Iran” in the 444-day Iran hostage crisis that began in 1979.
In his tweet responding to Trump’s threat against Iran, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said Trump’s threat to target civilian and cultural sites is akin to “what terrorists do.”
Murphy added that Trump is “stumbling” into a war that is “entirely of his own making.” But war with Iran will “get thousands of Americans killed,” he wrote.
The crisis sharply escalated on Thursday when, acting on Trump’s orders, the U.S. military launched a drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian military leader who was also one of the most popular political figures in Iran.
The administration’s position was that Soleimani was plotting an “imminent” attack that would have killed Americans. But according to reporting by New York Times terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, the evidence of such a planned attack was “razor thin.”
Appearing on the ABC News This Week program on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attempted to walk back Trump’s threat against civilian and cultural targets, as quoted by the news site Raw Story.
Pompeo said that any attacks against Iran by the U.S. would conform with international law.
“Every target that we strike will be a lawful target,” Pompeo said, claiming that “protecting and defending America” was the “singular mission” of the Trump Iran policy.