U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he ordered the killing of Qassem Soleimani to stop a war, not start one, saying the Iranian military commander was planning imminent attacks on Americans.
"Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel but we caught him in the act and terminated him," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
"We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war," Trump said, adding that the United States does not seek regime change in Iran.
A senior U.S. official made similar statements also on Friday, saying that Soleimani, Tehran's most prominent military commander, was planning imminent attacks on U.S. diplomats and troops in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
A U.S. strike in Baghdad on Friday killed Soleimani, a 62-year-old general who headed the overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards and was seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Speaking to a small group of reporters on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials cast their decision to kill Soleimani as an act of self-defense.
"Soleimani was planning imminent attacks against American diplomats and armed forces members in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and in the region," the senior official said on condition of anonymity. "This was an action taken in self defense, and the United States has the inherent right to defend itself, if it is faced with an attack."