The head of the powerful intelligence section of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said on Thursday that a plot to assassinate the head of its elite Quds Force has been foiled.
The quashing of the assassination attempt on Major General Qasem Soleimani was announced by Hossein Taeb, a powerful figure within the IRGC and a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei at the 23rd gathering of IRGC force commanders in Tehran, with Soleimani in attendance.
Large quantities of explosives were to be detonated to kill Soleimani and instigate a sectarian war in Iran, Taeb claimed, in a plot several years in the making by “Arabic-Hebrew” intelligence services.
A three-member hit team from Iran was in neighbouring countries preparing for the operation with training from intelligence services, without specific mention of any country, Taeb said.
IRGC intelligence and the Ministry of Intelligence are the two main counter-espionage services in Iran, both of which operate inside and outside the country.
“The enemies of the Revolution… intended to act in the southeast of the country during the times of Muharram or Fatimiyya,” the intelligence chief said, respectively referring to the time that the death of Prophet Mohammad’s cousin Hossein and his daughter Fatima are mourned by Shiite Muslims in Iran.
After the initial plot was foiled, a second plot was activated to assassinate Soleimani in a Husseiniyah – a Shiite place of congregation – founded by his father in his hometown of Kerman, Taeb claimed.
“In this operation the hired … hit team were supposed to enter the country … purchase a place near the Husseiniyah of Commander Soleimani’s deceased father, and then acquire 350 to 500 kilos of explosives and place it under the Husseiniya by digging a tunnel,” he said, adding that Soleimani visits his father’s Husseiniyah every year during the mourning period of Muharram.
Guards intelligence foiled the plot because the hit team had been monitored from the time they left for training, he added.
Qasem Soleimani has been on the US Department of State’s list of sanctioned terrorists since 2007. He is believed to receive direct orders from Khamenei and is the main architect of the Iran policy across the Middle East.
Soleimani is a central figure in the dispute between Iran and the United States over IRGC activities across the Middle East, including in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
In his first press interview in 20 years broadcast on Tuesday, Soleimani appeared on Iranian TV describing his role during the 33 day war in 2006 between Hezbollah and Israel in granular detail, claiming he had been plotting against Israel from Lebanon for the entire duration of the war.