Iran says thwarts attack on top commander, arrests 3

Tehran (AFP) –


Iran's Revolutionary Guards announced Thursday the arrest of three "terrorists" accused of plotting an attack against senior commander Qassem Soleimani on orders of Israeli and Arab secret services.

The suspects "were sent abroad" and "large sums of money were spent to train them and prepare them" to carry out an attack against Soleimani, the Guards' official website Sepahnews said.

The shadowy Soleimani heads the Guards' elite Quds Force, which runs foreign operations, and is regarded as the mastermind of Iran's military strategy in the region.

Sepahnews, citing the Guards' intelligence chief Hossein Taeb, said the three were planning an attack against Soleimani during a Shiite religious ceremony in southern Iran.

They had dug a tunnel underneath a Shiite holy site in the city of Kerman that belongs to Soleimani's father and rigged it with "350 to 500 kilogrammes (770-1,100 pounds) of explosives", he said.

"The planned attack (orchestrated) by Arab-Israeli secret services had been decided a few years ago," Taeb said.

The suspects, whose identities were not revealed, had been under the radar of the Guards for a long time and were arrested as they plotted the attack, he added.

Soleimani has been the public face of Iran's support for the Iraqi and Syrian governments in their battles with Islamic State group jihadists.

In March, he received Iran's highest military award, the "Order of Zulfaqar".

Thursday's report comes two days after Soleimani gave a rare interview broadcast on Iranian state television during which he gave insight on his role in Lebanon during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.