Officials: Iran weighs plot to kill U.S. ambassador to South Africa

Posted by News Express | 14 September 2020 | 451 times

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•U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Lana Marks


The Iranian government is weighing an assassination attempt against the American ambassador to South Africa, U.S. intelligence reports say, according to a U.S. government official familiar with the issue and another official who has seen the intelligence.

News of the plot comes as Iran continues to seek ways to retaliate for President Donald Trump’s decision to kill a powerful Iranian general earlier this year, the officials said. If carried out, it could dramatically ratchet up already serious tensions between the U.S. and Iran and create enormous pressure on Trump to strike back — possibly in the middle of a tense election season.

U.S. officials have been aware of a general threat against the ambassador, Lana Marks, since the spring, the officials said. But the intelligence about the threat to the ambassador has become more specific in recent weeks. The Iranian Embassy in Pretoria is involved in the plot, the U.S. government official said.

Still, attacking Marks is one of several options U.S. officials believe Iran’s regime is considering for retaliation since the general, Qassem Soleimani, was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike in January. At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. killed Soleimani to reestablish deterrence against Iran.

An intelligence community directive known as “Duty to Warn” requires U.S. spy agencies to notify a potential victim if intelligence indicates their life could be in danger; in the case of U.S. government officials, credible threats would be included in briefings and security planning. Marks has been made aware of the threat, the U.S. government official said. The intelligence also has been included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as the WIRe, a classified product that is accessible to senior policy and security officials across the U.S. government, as well as certain lawmakers and their staff.

Marks, 66, was sworn in as U.S. ambassador last October. She’s known Trump for more than two decades and has been a member of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Critics of Trump have derided her as a “handbag designer,” but her supporters retort that she is a successful businesswoman — her eponymous handbags run as much as $40,000 — with numerous international connections. A personal friend of the late Princess Diana, she also was born in South Africa and speaks some of the country’s key languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.

The intelligence community isn’t exactly sure why Iranians would target Marks, who has few, if any, known links to Iran. It’s possible the Iranians took her long friendship with Trump into consideration, the U.S. government official said.

The Iranian government also operates clandestine networks in South Africa, the officials noted, and has had a foothold there for decades. In 2015, Al Jazeera and The Guardian reported on leaked intelligence documents that detailed an extensive secret network of Iranian operatives in South Africa. Marks may also be an easier target than U.S. diplomats in other parts of the world, such as Western Europe, where the U.S. has stronger relationships with local law enforcement and intelligence services.

Iran vowed to retaliate. Its first major move was the Jan. 8 missile attack on the al-Asad military base in Iraq. But around the same time, an Iranian missile took down a civilian airliner, killing 176 people and leading to fury inside Iran at the regime’s incompetence and shifting explanations for the incident, along with condemnation abroad.

Iran and South Africa have cooperated on a number of fronts in recent decades, including at the U.N., where South Africa has at times advocated for Iran. South Africa’s uranium deposits are believed to have been a major interest for Iran as it was ramping up its nuclear program, which Tehran has always insisted was meant for peaceful energy purposes, not a bomb. The pair also have a military relationship, having signed some basic defense pacts.

Strange Iran-connected plots have been uncovered before.

Almost a decade ago, the U.S. arrested and eventually sentenced to prison an Iranian-American man who was alleged to have tried to hire Mexican drug cartel assassins to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States as he dined in Cafe Milano, a swanky Washington restaurant frequented by the city’s wealthy and powerful. The U.S. accused Soleimani of overseeing the plot. (Politico)

Source: News Express

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