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Iran threatened ‘USS Cole-style attack’ on US Army base and top general, report says

On Oct. 12, 2000, suicide terrorists exploded a boat alongside US Navy destroyer USS Cole as it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. (FBI/Released)
March 22, 2021

Iran threatened to attack the Fort Lesley McNair U.S. Army base in Washington D.C. and further target the U.S. Army’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph M. Martin, according to two senior U.S. intelligence officials who spoke with the Associated Press on Sunday.

The two intelligence officials said the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted communications in January, in which Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) discussed carrying out a “USS Cole-style attack” against the D.C. Army base. The comments refer to a 2000 suicide bombing attack in which Al Qaeda terrorists drove a boat packed with explosives up to the side of USS Cole while it was anchored at the Yemeni port of Aden, and detonated the explosives, killing 17 sailors.

The intercepted IRGC communications also reportedly included threats to kill Martin and surveil the Army base. Fort McNair, which is one of the oldest military bases in the country, serves as the official residence of the Army’s vice chief of staff. The base is also home to the National War College, where midlevel and senior midlevel military officers come to study national security strategy.

The intercepted chatter reportedly belonged to the IRGC’s Quds Force, a special operations and intelligence unit. The threatening chatter came about as Iran repeatedly called for revenge against the U.S. amid the one-year anniversary of the U.S. strike that killed Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani, ordered by former President Donald Trump.

Pentagon, NSA and White House National Security Council officials did not respond to Associated Press requests for comment.

The Iranian threats could form part of the justification behind an Army push for extended security measures around the base, which sits on Washington’s developing waterfront district. In the last two years, the Army has pushed for a proposed buffer zone of about 250 feet to 500 feet (75 meters to 150 meters) from the shore of the Washington Channel, which abuts the base. City leaders have been fighting the proposal, which could restrict access to as much as half of the heavily traveled waterway.

About 300 people live aboard boats in the channel, according to Patrick Revord, who is the director of technology, marketing and community engagement for the Wharf Community Association. About 400,000 people take cruises, 300,000 people use water taxis and 7,000 people also paddle the waterway each year.

During a January virtual meeting to discuss the proposed security measures, Army Maj. Gen. Omar Jones, commander of the Military District of Washington, said there were “credible and specific” threats against military leaders who live on the base. He cited the example of a swimmer who ended up on the installation and was then arrested.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the non-voting sole congressional delegate for Washington D.C., questioned whether a swimmer constitutes a major security risk to the Army base.

“When it comes to swimmers, I’m sure that must be rare,” Norton said. “Did he know where he was? Maybe he was just swimming and found his way to your shore?”

Jones responded that the swimmer was “not a great example there, but our most recent example” of a security breach at the base.

In a new set of comments to the Associated Press, Norton said she had not seen any intelligence to justify the proposed restrictions on the waterways around Fort McNair.

“I have asked the Department of Defense to withdraw the rule because I’ve seen no evidence of a credible threat that would support the proposed restriction,” Norton said. “They have been trying to get their way, but their proposal is more restrictive than necessary.”