Iran’s military commander Qasem Soleimani
was killed by an air strike at Baghdad airport on January 3 ordered by President
Donald Trump, the Pentagon has confirmed.
The 62-year-old general spearheaded
Iran’s Middle East operations as head of the elite Quds Force.
President Trump said the US took its
action to stop, not start, a war. However, the killing marks a major escalation
According to US officials, 3,000
additional troops will be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.
Qasem Soleimani was widely seen as
the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah and Qasem Soleimani was hailed
as a heroic national figure.
Under his 21-year leadership of the
Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in
Lebanon; expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria; and orchestrated
Syria’s offensive against rebel groups in that country’s long civil war.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said
the US wanted to de-escalate the situation, but that the strike was
“lawful” and “saved lives”.
Later he thanked Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast support” and
“for recognizing aggressive threats posed by Iran’s Quds force”, the
state department said.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of
Iranians have been holding rallies in Tehran and other cities, denouncing what
they call US crimes.
Meanwhile, global oil price rose
sharply in the wake of the attack.
Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei said
“severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. Qasem Soleimani’s
death would double “resistance” against the US and Israel, he added.
The ayatollah also announced three
days of national mourning. He would lead prayers at a funeral ceremony for the
general in Tehran on January 5, Iranian media quoted Qasem Soleimani’s family
Later, the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security body, said
the US would be held responsible for its “criminal adventurism”.
It said in a statement: “This was
the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not
easily escape its consequences.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attack an “act of international terrorism”.
The US and Iran have had an
increasingly strained relationship in recent years and share no diplomatic
Both countries have thanked the
Swiss government for its assistance as an intermediary facilitator.
Xiyue Wang was flown in a Swiss
government plane from Tehran to Zurich, and then to Ramstein Air Base in Germany,
where he will undergo medical check-ups before heading home.
Massoud Soleimani was also flown to
Zurich and then on to Iran.
Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted photos
of himself with Massoud Soleimani after his release.
He was the first to announce the
news, via Twitter: “Glad that
Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families
In a formal statement, President Donald Trump said Xiyue Wang had been
“held under the pretence of espionage”.
The statement said: “Freeing
Americans held captive is of vital importance to my Administration, and we will
continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive
Hua Qu, Mr
Xiyue Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, wrote in statement: “Our family is complete once again. Our son Shaofan and I have
waited three long years for this day and it’s hard to express in words how
excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue.
“We are thankful to everyone who
helped make this happen.”
Princeton University, where Xiyue Wang was studying as a postgraduate, said
in a statement it was “overjoyed” with the news of his release and
was looking forward to “welcoming him back to campus”.
Xiyue Wang was arrested in Iran in August 2016 as he was leaving the
He had been doing research in Iran for a university dissertation and was
accused of seeking to gather “highly confidential articles” for US
and British academic institutions.
Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in jail for spying.
Massoud Soleimani was detained in October 2018 on accusations of attempting
to export biological materials to Iran in violation of trade sanctions on the
country over its nuclear program.
US-Iran tensions have risen significantly in the last two years.
After President Donald Trump took power, the US pulled out of a 2015 treaty
that aimed to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran has always insisted its nuclear program is peaceful, but the US voiced
concerns about potential weapon building.
President Donald Trump also reinstated sanctions on Iran, which have led to its currency plummeting and inflation soaring.
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