Washington (AFP) - An assertion by US Vice President Mike Pence that Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who died Friday in an American attack in Iraq, had helped the September 11 terrorists has been sharply challenged in the US press.
In a Twitter message Friday, Pence said that Soleimani "assisted in the clandestine travel to Afghanistan of 10 of the 12 terrorists who carried out the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States."
When critics on Twitter noted that the 2001 terror attacks were carried out by 19 militants, and not 12, Pence spokeswoman Katie Waldman specified that Pence was referring only to the dozen who had "transited through Afghanistan."
She then added that "10 of those 12 were assisted by Soleimani."
But as the New York Times pointed out, Soleimani -- who at the time was already heading the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corp -- is never named in the detailed 585-page report issued by the September 11 Commission.
- 'Probably not aware' -
The bipartisan commission of inquiry found that while "there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11... we have found no evidence that Iran or Hezbollah was aware of the planning for what later became the 9/11 attack."
The report added: "At the time of their travel through Iran, the al-Qaeda operatives themselves were probably not aware of the specific details of their future operation."
The Washington Post noted that while it might be "technically correct to say that Iran 'assisted' in their travel," that did not mean Tehran -- or Soleimani in particular -- was "knowingly assisting in what became the 9/11 attack."
Moreover, 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were nationals of Saudi Arabia -- a Sunni monarchy and regional rival of Shia Iran.
Pence went on, in an unusual series of a dozen tweets Friday, to list some of the "worst atrocities" attributed to Soleimani and carried out across a wide swath of the Middle East.
Other Trump administration figures issued similar defenses of the lethal attack on Soleimani.
Thus, the State Department tweeted that "Qasem Soleimani was responsible for killing at least 603 US service members and maiming thousands more in Iraq."
It said 17 percent of the deaths of US personnel in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 could be attributed to the Quds Force under Soleimani.