New Delhi: As the death of Major General Qasem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Qud’s Force, marks an unprecedented escalation in the standoff between Washington and Tehran, India found itself in the crosshairs amid the careening crisis, after US President Donald Trump blamed the deceased leader for orchestrating a spate of terror attacks, including one in Delhi.
The US Defense Department said it killed the 62-year-old Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region." It also accused Soleimani of approving orchestrated violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Trump justified the killing of Iran’s most revered leader, who was also the mastermind of its interventions across the Middle East, saying he was responsible for several terror attacks and was planning more.
“Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London,” Trump said, referring to the car bombing of an Israeli diplomat in Delhi in February 2012.
The Delhi police in 2012 had connected the attack on the Israeli diplomat that had also injured three other people, with similar acts of terror on Israeli diplomats in Tbilisi, Georgia as well as Bangkok, Thailand, that were reportedly carried out by IRGC agents in retaliation for the attacks on Iran’s nuclear scientists.
However, Iran’s Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni strongly denied the allegations. “Trump can say anything he likes. But this is a big lie. General Soleimani was a soldier, he was not involved in the targeting of innocents anywhere,” Chegeni was quoted in a report by The Hindu.
The Iranian diplomat accused the US president for attempting to cover the US action of killing an official from Tehran while he was visiting Iraq after travelling to Syria for “anti-terrorism consultations”.
Chegeni further condemned Trump’s decision of killing of Gen Soleimani, accusing US of resorting to “state terrorism”.
“Gen Soleimani fought against the ISIS, Jubhat Al Nusra, and Al-Qaeda. He was invited to Syria and Iraq by their governments for advice and assistance on fighting these terror groups. So anyone who assassinated him, is for the terrorists. And if this was ordered by their President, then this is an act of state terrorism,” The Hindu quoted him as saying.
Talking about India’s role, the diplomat said he expected Iran’s “reliable friend” would condemn the assassination of “an official who was on a visit to another country on official invitation.”
“We expect India as our reliable friend to advise the United States to follow international norms and not destabilise the region,” Chegeni said.
On Friday, India issued a statement that expressed concern over rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and “noted” the US killing of the senior Iranian official.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed “harsh retaliation" after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani's deputy, to replace him as head of the Quds Force.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the killing a “heinous crime" and said his country would “take revenge.” Iran twice summoned the Swiss envoy, the first time delivering a letter to pass to Washington.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the US attack a “cowardly terrorist action” and said Iran has the right to respond “in any method and any time.“
Thousands of worshipers in Tehran took to the streets after Friday prayers to condemn the killing, waving posters of Soleimani and chanting “Death to deceitful America.”
However, Trump issued a stark warning to Iran on Saturday, threatening to hit dozens of targets in the Islamic Republic “very fast and very hard” if it retaliates for the targeted killing of the head of Iran's elite Quds Force.