Iran has denied a media report that claimed it is plotting to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, to avenge the killing of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this year, the National Post reported.
Intelligence about the alleged threat, which first surfaced in the spring, has become more specific in recent weeks, news website Politico said in an exclusive report, citing an unidentified US government official.
Marks, 66, is a luxury fashion and handbag designer based in a Palm Beach, Florida.
A close friend of the US president’s, she was a member of his exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Florida before Trump appointed her ambassador in 2018 to the country where she was born and raised.
Marks’ family were prominent members of the Jewish community in Port Elizabeth, the Times of Israel reported.
Politico said Marks had been informed of the threats against her, which reportedly involved the Iranian embassy in South Africa.
“Such baseless claims are part of the Trump administration’s intelligence campaign against Iran,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
A spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry said the US official’s allegation took Pretoria by surprise.
“We only became aware of this report this morning,” Lunga Ngqengelele said by phone on Monday. Department of International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor may issue a statement later, he said.
According to Politico, an intelligence community directive known as “Duty to Warn” requires US spy agencies to notify a potential victim if intelligence indicates their life could be in danger; in the case of US government officials, credible threats would be included in briefings and security planning.
The intelligence also has been included in the CIA World Intelligence Review, known as the WIRe, a classified product that is accessible to senior policy and security officials across the US government.
Critics of Trump have derided her as a “handbag designer,” but her supporters retort that she is a successful businesswoman — her eponymous handbags run as much as US$40,000 — with numerous international connections, Politico reported.
A personal friend of the late Princess Diana, she also was born in South Africa and speaks some of the country’s key languages, including Afrikaans and Xhosa.
Iran’s Islamist leaders have a history of carrying out assassinations beyond their country’s borders, as well as taking hostages, since seizing power following a popular uprising in the late 1970s, Politico reported.
In recent decades, Iran has generally avoided directly targeting US diplomats, although Iranian-backed militias have long attacked US diplomatic facilities and personnel in Iraq.