NBC News has revealed details of Washington’s assassination of prominent Iranian commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, saying the terrorist operation used Israeli intelligence and was run from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Qatar.
According to the report, informants at the Damascus airport tipped off the CIA about the time the plane carrying the head of Iran’s Quds Force took off for Baghdad, where he was scheduled to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
The report quoted two people with direct knowledge of the assassination and other American officials briefed on it as saying that “intelligence from Israel helped confirm the details” about General Soleimani’s flight on January 3.
“Once the Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320 landed, American spies at Iraq’s main airport, which houses US military personnel, confirmed its exact whereabouts,” it said.
“Three American drones moved into position overhead, with no fear of challenge in an Iraqi airspace completely dominated by the US military. Each was armed with four Hellfire missiles.”
Various US officials watched as Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), walked up a set of stairs to greet General Soleimani as he emerged from the airplane.
“CIA Director Gina Haspel was observing from agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was watching from another location. Another feed was on view in the White House, but President Donald Trump was in Florida at the time,” it added.
The imagery, NBC News reported, showed the two commanders getting into a sedan and the rest of the entourage climbing into a minivan.
The US drones followed as the vehicles began moving to exit the airport while signals intelligence specialists sought to hone in on the cellphones of the occupants to confirm their identities, the report said.
“At US Central Command forward headquarters in Qatar, from where the operation was being run, there were no significant doubts about who was inside those vehicles,” it continued.
“Those watching could see the missiles strike, a manmade bolt from the sky. The vehicles were engulfed in a fireball. In total, four missiles were fired,” the report said.
Officials told NBC News that the drones, which followed the convoy, are not silent, but their sound is not easily discernible in an urban environment like Baghdad.
The officials said that they had been closely tracking the Iranian commander’s movements across the region for days.
On January 9, two Iraqi security officials told Reuters that they are investigating the role of suspected US informants at the Baghdad airport.
Syrian intelligence, it added, is investigating two employees of Cham Wings Airlines, a private commercial airline headquartered in Damascus.
General Soleimani is viewed by the world’s freedom-seeking people as the key figure in defeating Daesh, the world’s most notorious terror group, in the Middle East battles.
Several million people attended the funeral processions held for the commanders in the Iraqi cities of Kadhimiya, Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf as well as the Iranian cities of Ahvaz, Mashhad, Tehran, Qom and Kerman.