Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was eliminated in a US drone strike near the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq overnight Thursday, the Pentagon confirmed.
“At the direction of the President, the US military has taken decisive defensive action to protect US personnel abroad by killing Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," said a statement from the Pentagon.
The IRGC also confirmed Soleimani’s death shortly before the Pentagon statement.
A US official told Newsweek that Mohammed Redha al-Jabri, head of protocol of Iraq's state-sponsored Popular Mobilization Forces and the deputy head of the organization, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, were also eliminated in the attack.
“The American and Israeli enemy is responsible for killing the mujahideen Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani,” said Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces.
Israel raised its level of vigilance following Soleimani’s elimination and it was decided to close the Hermon ski site for visitors on Friday.
There are no additional directives for residents of the Golan Heights and the area.
Earlier it was reported that four rockets hit a military base near the airport in the Iraqi capital.
The Lebanese Al-Mayadeen network, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, reported that the attack was carried out by US helicopters and that Muhammad Raza al-Jabari, a senior official in the Iranian-backed Shiite militias, was killed in the attack.
Iraqi paramilitary groups quoted by the Reuters news agency said that five of their members and two “guests” were killed in an air strike on their vehicles inside the airport.
The militia members were hosting “important guests” at Baghdad airport who were being driven in two militia vehicles that were struck by two rockets, said the militia sources.
Iraqi media reported that sirens were activated in the airport, which was shut down following the incident. It is also reported that the rockets hit the back of the base.
The incident comes amid the tensions between the United States and Iran in recent days.
On Sunday, the US launched air strikes against the Kataib Hezbollah militia in Iraq. The strikes were in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a Friday rocket attack on an Iraqi military base.
On Tuesday, Iraqi militants laid siege to the US Embassy in Baghdad, setting fires and smashing security cameras before forcing their way into the compound.
US President Donald Trump accused Iran of orchestrating the violent protest. Iran rejected the allegations.
The Defense Department said Soleimani “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.” It also accused Soleimani of approving the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this week.
Following the attack on the embassy, the Pentagon announced that around 750 more troops would be sent to the Middle East immediately.
While Trump threatened that Iran would pay a “big price” for the embassy attack, he later said he didn’t believe a war with Iran was on the horizon.