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Terrorism

Iran, Hezbollah planning attacks on US to retaliate for Soleimani slaying: Officials

Abizaid said the US had assessed that Iran-backed Hezbollah maintained a ‘high threshold for conducting attacks in the Homeland.’

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Iran is planning ways to retaliate against the US for the slaying of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, and Lebanese Hezbollah is being closely watched for potential attacks on American soil, a top US intelligence official warned Tuesday.

“Protecting against such threats is even more important now, as Iran, its agents, and proxies plan ways to retaliate against the United States for the January 2020 killing of IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani,” Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, said during testimony before the US Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

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Abizaid said the US had assessed that Iran-backed Hezbollah maintained a “high threshold for conducting attacks in the Homeland.

“Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah balances his organization’s view of the United States as one of its primary adversaries against the likelihood of US retaliation if the group decided to conduct an attack,” Abizaid added.

Soleimani was killed in a drone strike ordered by former President Donald Trump after the Iranian general was said to have been planning attacks on US diplomats and military personnel.

The strike, which was carried out in Baghdad, also killed Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, then-deputy commander of Iraq’s Shiite militia, Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Iran views terrorism as a tool to support its core objectives, including projecting power in the Middle East, defending Shia Islam, and deterring its strategic rivals,” Abizaid said.

Turning to Iraq, Abizaid suggested that Iran-backed Shiite militias were posing the “most immediate threat to US interests,” citing drone attacks on US facilities there.

The US intelligence official also highlighted Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen. “In Yemen, Iran has maintained its years-long effort to support Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia and other targets located in the Gulf, including those involving long-range missiles and UAVs,” she said.

For his part, FBI Director Chris Wray said Iran and its global proxies were continuing to plot attacks against the US and its allies throughout the Middle East.

“FBI arrests in recent years of alleged Iranian and Hezbollah operatives in the United States suggest the Government of Iran and Hizballah each seek to establish infrastructure here, potentially for the purpose of conducting operational or contingency planning,” Wray said in testimony. “IRGC-QF Commander Esmail Ghani and Hezbollah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah have each threatened retaliation for the death of IRGC-QF Commander Qassem Soleimani.

A poster depicting assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh and Iran's Quds Force top commander Qassem Soleimani in Ain Qana, Lebanon, Sept. 22, 2020. (Reuters)
A poster depicting assassinated Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh and Iran's Quds Force top commander Qassem Soleimani in Ain Qana, Lebanon, Sept. 22, 2020. (Reuters)

While Wray said that domestic terrorism threats in the US had forced the FBI to “surge” resources to that front, “our increased focus on domestic terrorism is not at the expense of our work on other terrorism threats.”

Read more: Sanaa airport has been closed due to use by Iran, Hezbollah: Yemen's government