Iranian General Qassem Soleimani arrived at the Damascus airport in a vehicle with dark-tinted glass. Four soldiers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards rode with him. They parked near a staircase leading to a Cham Wings Airbus A320, destined for Baghdad.
Neither Soleimani nor the soldiers were registered on the passenger manifesto, according to a Cham Wings airline employee who described the scene of their departure from the Syrian capital to Reuters. Soleimani avoided using his private plane because of rising concerns about his own security, said an Iraqi security source with knowledge of Soleimani’s security arrangements.
The passenger flight would be Soleimani’s last. Rockets fired from a U.S. drone killed him as he left the Baghdad airport in a convoy of two armored vehicles. Also killed was the man who met him at the airport: Abu Mahdi Muhandis, deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Iraqi government’s umbrella group for the country’s militias.
The Iraqi investigation into the strikes that killed the two men on Jan. 3 started minutes after the U.S. strike, two Iraqi security officials told Reuters. National Security agents sealed off the airport and prevented dozens of security staff from leaving, including police, passport officers and intelligence agents.
Investigators have focused on how suspected informants inside the Damascus and Baghdad airports collaborated with the U.S. military to help track and pinpoint Soleimani’s position, according to Reuters interviews with two security officials with direct knowledge of Iraq’s investigation, two Baghdad airport employees, two police officials and two employees of Syria’s Cham Wings Airlines, a private commercial airline headquartered in Damascus.
The probe is being led by Falih al-Fayadh, who serves as Iraq’s National Security Adviser and the head of the PMF, the body that coordinates with Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite militias, many of which are backed by Iran and had close ties to Soleimani.
The National Security agency’s investigators have “strong indications that a network of spies inside Baghdad Airport were involved in leaking sensitive security details” on Soleimani’s arrival to the United States, one of the Iraqi security officials told Reuters.
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