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FBI Intensifies Florida Manhunt For Suspected Iranian Assassin Targeting Trump-Era Officials

The agency says Iran is seeking to avenge the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qasem Soleimani

FBI Intensifies Florida Manhunt For Suspected Iranian Assassin Targeting Trump-Era Officials

Federal authorities have escalated their search for an Iranian intelligence operative identified by the FBI as involved in plotting assassinations against current and former U.S. government officials.

This intensified manhunt comes in response to a bulletin issued by the FBI's Miami field office on March 1. The bureau is seeking any information about Majid Dastjani Farahan, whom the agency said is recruiting individuals for various operations in the U.S., including assassinating government officials as revenge for the Jan. 3, 2020 killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qasem Soleimani.

Former President Donald Trump said Soleimani was “directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people,” and ordered the drone strike that killed him at the Baghdad airport with several other Iran-backed military figures.

Trump asserted that Soleimani was plotting “imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and American personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him.”

The FBI says that Farahan, 42, speaks English, Spanish, French, and Farsi, and has also been recruiting people to surveil religious sites, businesses, and other facilities in the U.S.

High-profile figures from the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Brian Hook, the special envoy for Iran, are believed to be among the targets for assassination. The gravity of the threat has necessitated round-the-clock security for both men, according to federal officials.

In December, Farahani was one of two Iranian men sanctioned by the U.S. government for surveilling American infrastructure and recruiting people for assassination operations on U.S. soil.

“The regime’s efforts to silence its opponents extend far beyond its borders, where Iran has carried out acts of transnational repression, including rendition and lethal plotting against activists, journalists, and foreign government officials,” the Treasury Department said in a statement about the sanctions.

The legality of Soleimani's killing has been a subject of debate among experts.

"I think the best definition would be either one of assassination or murder," Gary Solis, a retired Marine who taught about the laws of war at West Point, told NPR. He stated that the incident was comparable to Iran killing a high-ranking U.S. military official with a bomb on U.S. soil.

Ashley Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor who focuses on the laws of war, told the news outlet she believes it is unlikely to meet the definition of assassination: “A lawful killing during an armed conflict does not constitute an assassination," she said. "As a legal matter, if he were intimately involved in planning and blessing these attacks, then that doesn't seem to render it as assassination."

A State Department official told NPR they agreed.

“Assassinations are not allowed in the law,” they said, while offering two criteria that officials considered prior to ordering the strike. "Do you have overwhelming evidence that somebody is going to launch a military or terrorist attack against you?" the unnamed State Department official said. "Check that box.”

They added that the administration also considered whether there were other options to stop Soleimani, including arrest, but concluded there was “no way.”

Agnes Callamard, United Nations Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said in a report on the incident that the killing violated international law, and was a breakpoint in international law, because it targeted non-State actors.

“This is the primary reason the Soleimani strike is considered a watershed change in the conduct of extraterritorially targeted strikes and killings. It is hard to imagine that a similar strike against a Western military leader would not be considered as an act of war, potentially leading to intense action, political, military and otherwise, against the State launching the strike,” Callamard argued in her report.

“No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified,” she told the UN Human Rights Council in July 2020. “No evidence has been provided that a drone strike in a third country was necessary or that the harm caused to that country was proportionate to the harm allegedly averted.”

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