MIAMI — President Donald Trump, in his first comments since he ordered a drone attack that killed Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani, said Friday that the general's decadeslong campaign of terror across the globe has finally been ended.
In brief remarks at his Mar-a-Lago resort in south Florida, Trump said Soleimani, who commanded Iran's Quds Force, had been caught "in the act" planning "imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel."
"We caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump said in a brief address. "His reign of terror is over."
A senior Department of State official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters the attacks planned by Soleimani targeted U.S. diplomats, U.S military personnel and facilities that house Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Soleimani was killed in "a flawless precision strike" Thursday, Trump said. The drone strike occurred near the Baghdad airport.
"What the United States did yesterday should have been done long ago. A lot of lives would've been saved," Trump said, adding that the Iranian general had "made the death of innocent people his sick passion."
"For years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its ruthless Quds Force under Soleimani's leadership, has targeted, injured and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen. The recent attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq — including rocket strikes that killed an American and injured four American servicemen very badly, as well as a violent assault on our embassy in Baghdad — were carried out at the direction of Soleimani," Trump said.
The president also attempted to reassure people who were concerned the strike would lead to all-out war with Iran.
"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," he said. "We do not seek regime change. However, the Iranian regime's aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors, must end and it must end now. The future belongs to the people of Iran, those who seek peaceful coexistence and cooperation, not the terrorist warlords who plunder their nation to finance bloodshed abroad."
Trump spoke before heading to a campaign event at a South Florida megachurch, where he began the event by thanking the U.S. military. He pointed to the successful raid that killed the Islamic State militant group's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in November, before addressing the drone strike on the Iranian military leader whom Trump called a "terrorist ringleader" who "is now forever gone."
"He was planning a very major attack — and we got him," Trump said. "So let this be a warning to terrorists, if you value your own life, you will not threaten the lives of our citizens."
Ahead of Trump's remarks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted, "The great nation of Iran will take revenge for this heinous crime."
The strike came amid escalating tensions between the Trump administration and Tehran over rocket attacks aimed at coalition forces in Iraq. U.S. officials have said those attacks were likely carried out by Iranian-backed militias with links to Soleimani's Quds Force.