WASHINGTON - The United States believes Iran's shadowy Quds Force is becoming increasingly aggressive overseas and may be working on other international plots beyond the alleged plan to kill Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington, three US officials told Reuters.
US allegations last week of a foiled plot in Washington have escalated tensions between the United States and Iran. They have also renewed Washington's focus on the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is believed to have sponsored attacks on US targets in the Middle East -- but never before in the United States.
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"They're being more aggressive ... not only in Iraq but worldwide," one senior US official said in an interview. The official and others insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record and because of the sensitive nature of the matter.
US officials have long charged that the Quds Force -- the Arabic word for Jerusalem -- has used proxies to attack US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The Quds Force, whose power within Iran is believed to be growing, is
also active in Lebanon, the Gulf, Syria and elsewhere, officials said.
Many Iran specialists have reacted skeptically to the disclosure of an
alleged Iranian plot within the United States itself. Tehran has
dismissed the charges as a fabrication.
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Some foreign nations briefed on the plot have raised questions. While US
President Barack Obama has so far demanded tougher sanctions on Iran
and not a military reprisal, representatives of those nations are
nonetheless wary, given the flawed intelligence case President George W.
Bush made for war in Iraq.
Even US officials now convinced of the plot's authenticity acknowledged
they were initially doubtful due to the case's odd facts, including the
bumbling nature of the Iranian-American now in custody, and his approach
to a supposed Mexican drug cartel figure who happened to be a US
US officials who spoke to Reuters declined to provide details of the
evidence that the Quds Force may have other plots in the works. But two
officials stressed they were based on more than just speculation or
"These are not merely aspirational plots dreamed up by the Quds Force.
In fact, there is active planning around them," a second senior US
official told Reuters. Both senior officials played down concerns any
attack was imminent.
A third US official said the recklessness of the alleged attempt to
assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir in Washington suggested that
Quds "may be involved in other actions."
In the wake of the US government's disclosure of the alleged plot,
counter-terrorism investigators in Britain are examining the possibility
that other plots hatched in Iran were under way, a European government
But the source said he and his colleagues were unaware of any current
Iranian plots similar to the one the Americans said they had uncovered
and disrupted.Iran's "second most powerful man"
US officials said they believed Iran's Quds Force had expanded its power
in recent years, exerting more control over the country's foreign
Its commander, Qasem Suleimani, a brigadier general, has led the group's
efforts to broaden Iran's influence in the Middle East, including by
supporting Iraq factions that oppose the US presence.
"His prominence within the Quds Force cannot be overstated. He is
directly responsible for everything the Quds Force does," one US
military official, who is an expert on Iran, told Reuters on condition
Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace in Washington, described Suleimani as "arguably the
second most powerful man in Iran after the supreme leader," Ayatollah
The United States has blamed Iran for an upswing in attacks against US
forces in Iraq over the summer that made June the deadliest month for US
personnel there since 2008. The United States also accuses Tehran of
supplying weapons to Afghan militants, although on a far smaller scale
than in Iraq.
In recent years, Suleimani's Quds Force has been "meddling in more places," the first senior US official said.
"There are opportunities they think they can exploit in various places
in the Middle East, that either they've got some foothold, and we're on
one side, and they're on the other," the official said.
Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University,
said the alleged plot cited by US officials tracked with what appeared
to be "far more aggressive Iranian behavior everywhere else."
He also cited Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan.
"For some, it might be this news came in the context of a trendline that they were seeing with Iran," Nasr said.
US officials have told Reuters they believe Suleimani is connected to the latest US plot.
"Whether he is doing this like other things on his own or whether this
is the direction of Khamenei, we can't say right now," the first US
official said. "It's a problem no matter what."
Nasr said he doubted the Quds Force would be doing something as risky as
a plot on US soil without political clearance from above.
Some Iran watchers were stunned that Tehran would choose to carry out an
attack on US soil, a potentially dangerous departure from past
protocol. But US officials following Iran told Reuters the behavior was
consistent with the activities by the Quds Force and Suleimani.
"It makes a huge difference to us that it's on US soil. But Iran has
been, with only the thinnest of veils, seeking to kill US troops and US
government individuals for years," the military official said.
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