Iran's top general Soleimani killed in US strike

By Jessie Yeung, Fernando Alfonso III, Tara John, Julia Hollingsworth, Rob Picheta, Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 4:26 a.m. ET, January 4, 2020
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11:11 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Soleimani was planning specific attacks from multiple countries, according to source

From CNN's Dana Bash, Jim Sciutto and Pamela Brown

Soleimani attends a meeting in Tehran in September 2016. Credit: Handout/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP
Soleimani attends a meeting in Tehran in September 2016. Credit: Handout/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP

The US had intel that Qasem Soleimani was in multiple countries in the region planning specific attacks on US interests, including US personnel, a congressional source briefed by the Trump administration told CNN.

The source said the intelligence suggested that Iranian plans were maturing, and it became a strategic time to take out Soleimani.

A source with knowledge said attacks against US personnel were being plotted in the region and described the concern as being beyond the normal chatter about such plots.

A senior administration official says intelligence showed Soleimani was in Baghdad after the embassy attack to plan with Iranian proxy forces future hits on US.

“The President made rapid and decisive decision on this,” the official said.

CNN reported earlier that force protection levels for all US military forces in the Central Command area of operations has been increased in the last 24 hours, according to two US defense officials. 

The level was raised from Force Protection level “Bravo” to “Charlie,” which applies “when a terrorist or hostile act incident occurs within the commander’s area of interest or intelligence is received indicating a hostile act, some form of terrorist action or targeting DoD elements, personnel, or facilities.”

10:58 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

What Israeli politicians are saying about Soleimani's death

From CNN's Oren Liebermann

Israeli politicians and officials are praising President Trump and the killing of Qasem Soleimani. Some are calling the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps the leader of “the most dangerous terror organization in the world.”

"Just as Israel has the right of self-defense, the United States has exactly the same right. Qasem Soleimani is responsible for the death of American citizens and many other innocent people. He was planning more such attacks.  President Trump deserves all the credit for acting swiftly, forcefully and decisively," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been arguably the most vocal international advocate of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran.

MK Gideon Sa’ar, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, tweeted, “God Bless America.”

Israel's hawkish Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett, has not issued a statement, nor has Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz. Other government officials have also been silent, likely in an attempt to avoid provoking a reaction from Hezbollah or other Iranian proxies in the region.

Benny Gantz, leader of the opposition and head of the Blue and White party, said Soleimani’s death sends a message to terror organizations around the world.

"This is the appropriate response to anyone responsible for the murder of countless innocent people and for undermining global stability. The message to the leaders of terrorism is strong and clear: You will be held accountable for your actions," he said in a statement.
10:55 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

America will receive "a crushing response" for Soleimani's death, Iranian general says

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

Brigadier General Ramazan Sharif, spokesperson for Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), praised General Qasem Soleimani's influence in Iran and neighboring countries. He said the US "will receive a crushing response" for his death. 

In an interview with Iranian state-funded Press TV, Sharif said Soleimani's death "will further strengthen this resistance front" and "will not halt the struggle of Muslims against Americans and the Zionists."

"In fact, it injected new blood," he said.

10:46 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Germany: "We are at dangerous escalation point"

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad and Ena Bilobrk

A German government spokesperson today said “we are at a dangerous escalation point” following the killing of Iran’s military chief Qasem Soleimani in Iraq.

Ulrike Demmer, deputy government spokesperson, said at a press conference that the US reacted in response to a “whole series of military provocations for which Iran is responsible."

She recalled the attacks on the tankers in the Strait of Hormuz and on the Saudi oil plant, plus the recent attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.

“We are at a dangerous escalation point. The important thing now is to contribute to de-escalation with prudence and restraint. The regional conflicts can only be resolved through diplomatic channels. We are in exchange with our allies,” Demmer added. 
10:45 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Syria's president: US strike a "cowardly act of aggression"

From CNN's Eyad Kourdi

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview in Damascus, Syria, in February 2016. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview in Damascus, Syria, in February 2016. Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called the US strikes a "treacherous and cowardly act of aggression,” in a message sent to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, according to Syrian state broadcaster El Ekhbaria. 

“It pained and hurt us the news about the martyrdom of a group of the leaders of the resistance lead by Major General Qasem Soleimani the major of al-Quds brigade due to this treacherous and cowardly act of aggression by America,” Assad’s statement said according to El Ekhbaria.

What happened Friday: The US drone strike in Baghdad killed Iranian military commander Soleimani and a number of others. President Trump ordered the airstrike on Baghdad airport that killed Soleimani, who as head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force became the architect of Tehran's proxy conflicts in the Middle East.

Trump's move dramatically ramps up regional tensions that have pitted Tehran against Washington and its allies in the Middle East. The Pentagon blamed Soleimani for hundreds of deaths of Americans and their allies in several attacks in recent months.

10:48 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

This isn't the first time Trump ordered an attack without telling Democratic leaders

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference in Washington, DC, on December 19. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi holds a press conference in Washington, DC, on December 19. Credit: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Senior congressional Democrats in the Gang of Eight, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, say they weren't briefed on the Soleimani attack. Meanwhile close Trump ally Lindsey Graham said he was informed ahead of time.

Sources say that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, were not briefed ahead of the Soleimani attack. A spokesman for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff declined to comment.

It's unclear whether House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy got advanced notice of the raid while in Florida with Trump, or whether the other GOP members in the Gang of Eight — Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr and House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes — were told ahead of time. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would not comment.

What does this mean: The move is the latest indication that Trump typically keeps his close GOP confidantes in the loop over national security matters that have traditionally been handled more on a bipartisan basis, infuriating Democrats who say such highly sensitive matters should be devoid of partisanship.

Democrats are calling out Trump for breaking protocol by keeping them out of the loop. But keep in mind, this is not the first time the President has acted without talking to congressional leadership.

The latest developments are similar to the end of October when the US military killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Top Democrats, including Pelosi, were left in the dark about the raid. Trump contended he did not tell Pelosi about the raid because he didn't want news of the operation to leak.

In that October attack, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also was not briefed, but he told CNN at the time he was okay with that.

“I wasn't [briefed], but I was in the similar position when President Obama ordered the attack on Osama bin Laden. I was not called in advance then, nor do I expect to be called in advance now," McConnell said in October. "The administration attempted to let me know. I didn't connect with them before the President's press conference, but they attempted to let me know before he went public. So the two situations were handled exactly the same from my point of view.”

While McConnell didn’t get notified ahead of the Baghdadi attack, a small group of congressional Republicans — including members who are not on the relevant committees overseeing military operations — were invited to the White House ahead just days ahead of the raid and were told an announcement was coming, according to a source familiar with the matter.

10:54 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric condemns US attack

From CNN’s Yousuf Basil

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, called the attack that killed Qasem Soleimani a blatant violation of Iraq sovereignty and called for restraint.

Here's the statement, which was read by a representative to Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Holy city of Karbala:

“The act of aggression near Baghdad international airport last night represents blatant violation for Iraq’s sovereignty, and violation of international treaties, which led to the martyrdom of a number of heroes from the victorious battle against Daesh (ISIS), this and other similar incidents warns that the country is entering a very difficult situations, we call on concerned parties to restrain and act with wisdom,” the statement read.
4:58 p.m. ET, January 3, 2020

This was the scene at Mar-a-Lago as the news of the strikes broke

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

As news broke that the US struck and killed Qasem Soleimani, President Trump was dining at his Mar-a-Lago club, surrounded by old friends and others like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

As meatloaf and ice cream were served, the Pentagon confirmed that the US was behind the strikes, the only statement from the administration throughout the night. 

Putting this airstrike in perspective: The scene Friday was similar to the one after Trump gave the order for American forces to carry out the missile strike on a Syrian airfield in the spring 2017.

After that strike, Trump went into great detail about the chocolate cake he had with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was there for ga summit, when he informed him about the series of tomahawk missiles. 

"I said, Mr. President, let me explain something to you — this was during dessert,” Trump said at the time. “We’ve just fired 59 missiles, all of which hit, by the way, unbelievable, from, you know, hundreds of miles away, all of which hit, amazing. Brilliant. It’s so incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius.”

"He was eating his cake and he was silent," the President added.

Trump later described it as "the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen—and President Xi was enjoying it.”

10:13 a.m. ET, January 3, 2020

Top Democratic leaders were kept in dark about Soleimani attack

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett 

Senior congressional Democrats who make up part of the Gang of Eight were not notified before the strikes that killed Iran Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. They say it's a breach of protocol over how the top leadership is typically briefed over sensitive military actions that carry great risks to the US. 

The four Democrats in the Gang of Eight include Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Thursday night criticized the administration for not consulting with Congress ahead of the attack. 

It’s unclear if any of the four Republican leaders were briefed ahead of time, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent Thursday with Trump at his Florida resort. Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham — who is not a member of the Gang of Eight but is a close ally of Trump — said this morning that he was briefed about the potential operation when he was with Trump in Florida this week. 

After the attack at the Baghdad airport, Pelosi spoke to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a Democratic source told CNN. The two talked for about 13 minutes around 9:40 p.m. ET Thursday, hours after the attack.