Scene of attack in Kerman, Iran
Scene of attack in Kerman, IranReuters/Majid Asgaripour/WANA

The US secretly warned Iran that Islamic State (ISIS) was preparing to carry out the terrorist attack in Kerman early this month that killed dozens of Iranians, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing US officials.

The confidential alert came after the US acquired intelligence that Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, was plotting to attack Iran, the officials said.

American officials said the information passed to Iran was specific enough about the location and sufficiently timely that it might have proved useful to Tehran in thwarting the attack on January 3 or at least mitigating the casualty toll.

Iran, however, failed to prevent the suicide bombings in the southeastern town of Kerman, which targeted a crowd that was commemorating the anniversary of the death of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds force who was eliminated in a US drone strike in Iraq in January of 2020.

“Prior to ISIS’s terrorist attack on January 3, 2024, in Kerman, Iran, the US government provided Iran with a private warning that there was a terrorist threat within Iranian borders,” a US official told The Wall Street Journal, adding that the US “followed a longstanding ‘duty to warn’ policy that has been implemented across administrations to warn governments against potential lethal threats. We provide these warnings in part because we do not want to see innocent lives lost in terror attacks.”

Officials with Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

US officials declined to say what channels were used to warn Iran or divulge details of what was passed, nor did they say if this was the first time Washington has passed such a warning to the Iranian regime.

Tensions between the US and Iran have been high in recent years due to disagreements over the 2015 Iran deal, from which then-President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. Iran has scaled back its compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in response.

The Biden administration sought to return to the deal and held indirect talks with Iran on a return to compliance, but the negotiations reached a stalemate last September, after Iran submitted a response to a European Union proposal to revive the deal.

A US official later said that the efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have “hit a wall” because of Iran's insistence on the closure of the UN nuclear watchdog's investigations.

The tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel.

In December, the US accused Iran of being responsible for a drone attack targeting a tanker off the coast of India. Iran's foreign ministry rejected the claims as “worthless”.