The two targets that have escaped wrath Saleh al-Aruri and Brigadier General Abdul Raza Shahlai. These are names to watch out for as they will not be going away any time soon.
Saleh al-Aruri is a senior member of the HAMAS organization’s military wing outside of the Gaza Strip and also serves as deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau.
Brigadier General Abdul Raza Shahlai is Soleimani’s chief of finance, stationed in the Yemen’s capital.
In-Depth:The Events That Led Up To The Successful Targeted Killing Of Qasem Soleimani
The sequence of events that led to the ability to “close-the-kill-loop” regarding the pre-emptive targeted killing / elimination / liquidation of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and his right-hand man in Iraq. (Mahdi al-Muhandis)
From the intelligence collection phase conducted by American forces ;flight plans, armed Hezbollah escorts, the fateful flight to Baghdad, the deployment of a UAV squadron, to the attacking of the armored SUV’s belonging to the “Popular Mobilization Forces” ferrying General Soleimani and his entourage.
The decision to strike is made:
On December 27th, the ‘Hezbollah Brigades’ (Kataib Hezbollah) launched a rocket attack consisting of approximately 30 rockets against the US military base near the city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq. The rocket attack left one American civilian contractor dead and a small number of American servicemen were wounded. The person responsible for planning and commanding the attack was the Commander of Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani – as indicated by calls intercepted by U.S intelligence organizations, made between Soleimani and his right-hand man in Iraq, Mahdi -al Muhandis. In addition to being Soleimani’s right hand man, al-Muhandis also served as the commander of ‘Hezbollah Brigades’(Kataib Hezbollah) in Iraq and also served as the senior deputy commander of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” (Quwwat al-taebiat al-shaebia) – an umbrella organization of Iraqi Shi’ite militias.
The Bloomberg news publication reported that the decision to eliminate Soleimani came as a result of the killing of an American citizen employed as a civilian contractor in Iraq, and that President Trump also ordered the Pentagon on December 29th, to launch a wide-scale strikes against Shi’ite militia bases located in both Iraq and Syria. Approximately 25 pro-Iranian fighters were killed, including a senior member of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” (Quwwat al-taebiat al-shaebia). Following the U.S attack on the Shi’ite militia bases, Quds Force commander General Soleimani Tweeted out a photo of himself with one of his protégés, Abu Ali al-Hazali – a senior commander in the ‘Hezbollah Brigades’(Kataib Hezbollah) who was killed in the U.S strikes. Soleimani described the Americans as “wolves” – worse than the “Lion” Saddam Hussein (for reference, Saddam Hussein was a member of the ‘Ba’athist’ Sunni affiliated party, and had a deep hatred for Iran and it’s Shi’ite ruling power. The deep hate was mutual, going back to the Iran-Iraq war). Later on, the Hezbollah Brigade commander, Mahdi -al Muhandis also sent out threats to attack U.S forces in the region.
On December 31st, 2019, following the funerals of militia-members killed as a result of the U.S airstrikes, huge mobs of dozens of Iraqi Shi’ite militants began to attack, with the intent of invading and destroying, the United States embassy compound in Baghdad. Dozens of militants were able to severely damage and get through the front door of the embassy checkpoint, were able to set fire to the reception area and hoisted the flags of the Al-Hashad al-Sha’abi militia in and around the embassy. US President Donald Trump has accused Iran of “planning” and orchestrating the attack on the embassy, adding that they will be held “fully responsible”.
Pre-Operation Intelligence Collections:
The online intelligence blog the “Intelli Times”, has been following the operational conduct of the Quds Force commander General Soleimani during his visits to Iraq and Syria for many years, and has managed to characterize, just as intelligence agencies around the world have, the operational infrastructure available to Soleimani that allowed him to conduct his illicit terrorist activities.
Several primary characteristics were identified in regarding his operational movements in Iraq and Syria:
- The consistent style of attire, composed of dark colored “military style cargo pants” usually dark green or brown, and a dark navy blue “safari jacket” also known as a “bush jacket”. Soleimani is seen wearing these clothes in nearly all of the most recent photos of him.
- The use of commercial flights (predominantly Iranian air carriers) for travel within the Middle East (Iran Air, Mahan Air, Queshm Air).
- Nearly always being accompanied by the Deputy Commander of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” (al Muhandis), his military secretary and three personal security personnel.
- Consistent reliance on the internal communications networks of “Popular Mobilization Forces” and the ability to locate him due to his use of his personal mobile phone.
- The use of the same armored Toyota Land Cruisers, all purchased in Baghdad, for his use every time he came to Iraq.
According to sources familiar with his movements in Iraq, Soleimani used a number of different ways to enter Iraq. On some occasions (like his final visit before he met his demise), he would land at Baghdad International Airport, on other occasions he has flown in to the Iraqi city of Najaf (widely considered to be the third holiest site in Shi’ite Islam) located just 135 kilometers south of Baghdad, just slightly more than an hours drive. On other occasions, Soleimani would cross into Iraq from Iran via a one of the land border crossing in the Diyala district.
The field intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and elimination teams are deployed:
US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has extensive experience in conducting operations in the Persian Gulf region, in Iraq and in certain areas in Syria. The US military regularly operates a variety of different types of air patrols along the border with Syria and over Iraq. In addition, American intelligence partners (such as Five Eyes [FVEY], some NATO countries and of course Israel) also cultivate, produce and share intel with the U.S military and intelligence organizations. The IntelliTimes blog revealed that as part of planning the operation to eliminate Soleimani and his operational arm in Iraq, the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) deployed a squadron specializing in intelligence gathering, target acquisition and targeted killings / eliminations at the Ayn Al Assad air base. According to satellite imaging and photos acquired by the blog, it is possible to confidently identify the presence of several MQ-9 “Reaper” UAV’s and the accompanying infrastructure needed to conduct combat operations with them. The MQ-9 “Reaper” is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of carrying special intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) devices with an all-weather capability and deadly guided munitions payloads. The U.S forces tend to conceal their MQ-9 Reapers in specially designed “tents” along with their mobile command and control “containers”, brought there specifically to allow UAV pilots to control their aircraft remotely from command headquarters.
The night flight to Damascus:
Soleimani’s journey to Baghdad begins on December 31, when he arrives at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport and gets on Flight No. IRM144 of “Mahan Air” direct flight to Damascus. Soleimani lands at Damascus International Airport slightly before 7pm local time, accompanied by Brigadier General Hussein Jafari-Nia, who served as his military secretary, Col. Shaharod Mosper-Nia, served as a military intelligence officer among other things, Hadi Taremi the head of Soleimani’s personal security detail and two other bodyguards.
The use of regular commercial flights operated by ‘Mahan Air’ by Iranian operatives and their counterparts from Shi’ite militias from Tehran to Damascus is well known to western intelligence agencies, and these flights can be regularly tracked by satellite. In May 2018, the company (Mahan Air) canceled the landing of one of their flights in Damascus following an attack on the Iranian terminal prior to landing. It was theorized at that time that very senior members of the Quds Force were on that flight, accompanying a shipment of advanced armaments, and that the attack was also intended to signal that there was someone who was tracking every landing and delivery of these advanced armaments.
in the Hezbollah stronghold district in Beirut:
At the airport, Soleimani and his entourage is greeted by “Quds Force” personnel stationed at the airport and is quickly escorted to a convoy of armored vehicles (SUV’s such as Toyota Land Cruisers and Nissan Patrols are commonly used) belonging to and operated by Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nassrallah personal security detail, ready to drive Soleimani straight to the heart of the Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut. In his most recent speech, Nasrallah said he met Soleimani on Wednesday, which would mean the 1st of January-the first day of the new year 2020. Nasrallah boasted that “whenever Soleimani came to visit us (in the Hezbollah stronghold district in Beirut), my personal staff would take care of his security and safety, from the moment he gets off the plane until he returns to Damascus Airport ”. Nasrallah added that Israel had avoided killing Soleimani in Syria or Lebanon because of its implications.
Indeed, after about two hours of driving in the dark, Hezbollah’s armored SUVs reached the Hezbollah Beirut stronghold. Once there, Soleimani was able to get a bit of rest and then join the morning prayer with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, in one of the guest rooms inside a specially built residential unit in one of the bunkers in south Beirut. Soleimani discusses with Nasrallah multiple issues, including sponsorship of the organization for hosting the Hamas political bureau in Beirut and the renewal of both professional and security cooperation between Hamas’ military wing and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Getting on the “Shaams Wings Airlines” flight from Damascus to Baghdad
By midnight of that same day, the armored convoy had already made its way from the Hezbollah facility in Beirut back to Damascus, and Soleimani and his men had an opportunity to rest in accommodation organized by their Quds Force colleagues in Damascus. On Thursday morning, Soleimani held a series of work meetings, including a meeting with Syrian Intelligence Chief, Major General Mamluk, whom he had been meeting with regularly over the past 6 months according to Lebanese newspaper “Al-Akhbar”, discussing the topic of renewed security cooperation with Hamas. At that meeting Hamas is represented by Saleh al-Aruri, known to be a senior member of the organization’s military wing outside of the Gaza Strip and also serves as deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau. At the end of that day, Soleimani returned to the Damascus International Airport and apparently visited the Quds Force headquarters (known to the intelligence community under the moniker of The Glass House) located very close to the airport’s VIP terminal. A check we (IntelliTimes) conducted reveals that Thursdays always have a night flight to Baghdad, most likely in light of the fact that the weekend is coming up and is popular for travelers (composed mostly of Shiite and Iranian militias) interested in spending the weekend in Iraq. The check conducted by the “IntelliTimes” blog reveals that an Airbus A320 tail number YK-BAE, flight number 6Q501 of Sham Wings Air Line took off on Thursday, January 2 at 10:20 pm local time in Damascus and landed in Baghdad at 00:28 Baghdad time. All in all, it was a one-hour and eight-minute flight (there is an hour difference between Baghdad and Damascus time zone). On this flight, there was an approximate 54-minute delay compared to the regular arrival times of the same flight on previous Thursdays (on the 26th and 19th and 12th of December 2019).
Senior deputy commander of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” welcomes Soleimani upon arrival:
Soleimani and his security guards are greeted by his right-hand man, Mahdi -al Muhandis, the senior deputy commander of the Popular Recruiting Forces and led to the two armored Toyota Land Cruisers awaiting them. Their vehicles makes their way from the dark exit gate on the east side of the airport to an airport road that is more well-lit heading towards the center of Baghdad. The vehicles travel at a small distance from each other, adjacent to the wall surrounding the airport, perhaps not to attract any special attention. However, unknown to them, two unmanned aerial vehicles that have been loitering in the air for over an hour, lock on to them and launch two deadly missiles that make sure that everyone sitting in the armored Land Cruisers won’t make it out alive.
Mission is a go:
It is probable that the estimated ‘zero hour’ planned by the Special Operations Command targeting unit was generally designed in approximate relation to those times-frames. The gaps between the intelligence gathered prior to the operation and the reality on the ground were also to be collected and processed by the various observation units (Special Mission Unit [SMU, agents, overhead aerial assets).
It turns out, that at the very same time, in parallel, another operation was taking place in the Yemeni arena. An operation meant to eliminate Brigadier General Abdul Raza Shahlai, Soleimani’s chief of finance, stationed in the Yemeni capital, was unfortunately unsuccessful. Abdul Raza Shahlai, is responsible to help build up the Houthi rebels and their cruise missile capability and to facilitate the ability to smuggle in the and tools and technologies needed for the production and assembly of cruise missiles. If Soleimani planned to strike American forces via Yemen or the Red Sea or against targets in Saudi Arabia, Raza Shahlai is the right man for facilitating and coordinating that plan.
The Iranians are currently investigating the circumstances that led to the finding and elimination of the Quds Force commander and his men. In Syria, Syrian Intelligence are leading and directing the investigation. They have already begun to arrest and interrogate employees of the airlines who were aware of this particular flight, and they have begun to do the same to various ground operations personnel working at the Damascus International Airport. Another investigative team is being led by Iraq’s security forces in an attempt to figure out if there were agents on the ground at Baghdad’s international airport collaborating with the American forces and assisted them with the identification of the targets and with the timing in order to pull off this successful mission.
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