US tried to kill Iranian commander in Yemen same night as Soleimani strike: Officials

By March 28, 2020 Podcast

By James Gordon Meek, Luis MartinezandElizabeth McLaughlinJanuary 10, 2020, ABC News podcast

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An unsuccessful strike on another high-ranking Iranian military commander took place in Yemen on the same night a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, two sources told ABC News.

The Jan. 2 nighttime strike targeted Abdul Reza Shahla’i, a key Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander, at his compound in Yemen, where he led Iran’s military support for the Houthi rebel group backed by Iran, according to a counterterrorism official and a U.S. official.

The strike on the compound was carried out by a drone, the counterterrorism official told ABC News, adding that by the next morning the U.S. learned the strike was unsuccessful.MORE: Trump warns cultural sites could be targeted if Iran retaliates for Soleimani strike

The strike in Yemen was first reported by the Washington Post.

“Shahla’i was a close confidante of Soleimani, and an operational commander who was responsible for commanders in key countries — Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon,” said Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Mideast policy. “Those commanders would then carry out attacks in those countries.”

A former counterterrorism official told ABC News Shahla’i was in charge of Iran’s operations inside Yemen, particularly the flow of missiles and drones to Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who have used those weapons to attack Saudi Arabia.

It was Shahlai’s activities in Yemen that increased U.S. efforts to locate him, the official added.

The U.S. unsuccessfully targeted Abdul Reza Shahla’i, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Quds Force based in Yemen, on Jan. 2, the night Qassem Soleimani was killed.The U.S. unsuccessfully targeted Abdul Reza Shahla’i, a high-ranking commander in Iran’s Quds Force based in Yemen, on Jan. 2, the night Qassem Soleimani was killed.U.S. Department of State

Last month, the State Department’s Reward For Justice Program offered a $15 million reward for information on Shahla’i and the possible the disruption of IRGC financial mechanisms.

The announcement described him as having a “long history of involvement in attacks targeting the U.S. and our allies.”

“As a senior Quds commander he also carried out Soleimani’s campaign in Iraq in the mid-2000s that killed hundreds of Americans,” Mulroy added. During that period, the IRGC provided Iranian-backed insurgents with specially built bombs that could penetrate most American armored vehicles.

The State Department said Shahla’i funded and directed the 2011 plot to attempt an assassination of the Saudi ambassador to Washington, D.C., and had “planned follow-on attacks inside the United States and elsewhere.”MORE: US stands ‘ready’ as threat from Iran ‘continues to be very real,’ Pence says

The Pentagon did not comment directly on the unsuccessful strike.

“We have seen the report of a January 2 airstrike in Yemen, which is long understood as a safe space for terrorists and other adversaries to the United States,” Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement on Friday. “The Department of Defense does not discuss alleged operations in the region.”