President Donald Trump on Friday called Iran's Qasem Soleimani the world's "number-one terrorist", who had a hand in plots across the world from New Delhi to London, and said he ordered his killing to "stop a war" and not start one even as thousands of additional US troops were sent to the region.
Soleimani was killed in a US drone-strike outside the Baghdad airport on Thursday, along with the leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.
Trump said Soleimani was "plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel". But like all other American officials who said so before him, he provided no evidence. One senior official cited Soleimani's presence in Baghdad as proof enough. "He's not there on vacation," he told reporters.
"We took action last night to stop a war," the president went on to say as prospects of a military conflict heightened with Iran vowing revenge. "We did not take action to start a war," he added. Just a short while before, the Pentagon had announced sending 3,500 additional troops to the region.
Trump's reference to New Delhi as targeted by Soleimani caught Indians by surprise. But not because it came as news to them, but because they have worked hard to insulate India's historically close ties with Iran, and their oil trade, from Tehran's conflicts with other nations such as the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia. India does not want to get dragged into this one as well, as was clear from the statement issued earlier in the day by the ministry of external affairs on Soleimani.
"Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London," Trump said, as seen by some experts, to address audiences outside the United States and claim and convey global salience of the strike ordered by him.
Trump was referring to the February 13, 2012, bombing of a car carrying the wife of an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi, while she was on her way to collect their children from school. Several people were wounded, but no one died.
Israeli diplomats were targeted the same day in Tbilisi, Georgia, and a day later in Bangkok, Thailand, in attacks that were blamed on Iran, as revenge for, in their view, the attacks on its scientists by Israel.
Israel had immediately blamed Iran for the bombings, but the Indian government had been found noticeably reluctant to publicly name Iran, given their long and historic ties, and Iran being one of its biggest suppliers of crude oil. But a "strong message was sent privately", according to people involved in these deliberations.
Delhi Police shortly arrested a man, who, it alleged, according to news reports from then, had worked with a five-man module of members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was headed by Soleimani even at the time, to carry out the attacks as reprisal for the killing of Iranian scientists. Police had named the bomber, who had allegedly also masterminded the attacks in Thailand and Georgia, and the four other members of the group saying they were all from Tehran.