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World & Nation

U.S. officials vow to increase security after airstrike kills Iranian general

Qassem Suleimani
Qassem Suleimani, right, with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a mosque in Tehran last year.
(Iranian Office of the Supreme Leader)

Many U.S. residents admitted some concern Friday, but little alarm, over what danger the country might encounter because of the killing of a top Iranian general in a U.S. airstrike.

Several shoppers at Seattle’s Pike Place Market said they were following news concerning the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani early Friday near Baghdad’s airport. But none of them described taking precautions or changing routines, even after Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for Americans.

Some people said the problems in the Middle East felt far away and less pressing than other issues, such as local crime.

“It’s a feeling of remoteness at the moment,” said Jodi Koch, 52, a Seattle shoe store manager. “That part of the world is always turbulent.”

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World leaders warned about the chances of escalating violence because of the tension between the U.S. and Iran. In many places across the U.S., local officials pledged to increase security patrols and in some cases declared their areas on high alert in response to Iranian vows for revenge. Many analysts said Americans overseas should be especially mindful of an increased risk of danger.

President Trump said Friday that the strike that killed Suleimani was made to “to stop a war” and was in the best interests of the American people.

A poll released by the Pew Research Center in August found that most Americans expressed concern with how Trump was handling ongoing tensions with Iran. Thirty-nine percent said they were “not at all confident” in Trump, while 21% said they were “very confident.”

Ken Khudayarov, a San Francisco tech worker visiting Seattle, said Israel and other countries in the Middle East have more to fear than the U.S.

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“I’m not worried about an escalation,” Khudayarov said. U.S. and Iranian officials will “talk through it, or make a deal on the back end.”

Those who said they expect retaliation by Iran said they considered the chance of attacks on U.S. soil to be small.

“I’m sure that Iran is going to do a lot of small attacks outside of the United States,” said Jarek Creason, a Cal State Fullerton student visiting Seattle.

“I’m not going to freak out about it and change my life,” he said. “I’m just paying attention.”

Steven Simon, a professor of international relations at Colby College in Maine, said if Iran chooses to retaliate, “it’s likely to do so in the region rather than in the United States.”

“It would have ample targets there, while entering the U.S. to carry out an attack would be complicated, risky and prone to failure,” Simon said. “A repeat of 9/11 seems quite unlikely. There are many Americans in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Arab side of the Gulf who could be targeted if Iran chose to go in this direction.”

Simon added, “If Iran does kill Americans in reply to Suleimani’s assassination, the U.S. would probably be impelled to respond, possibly creating an escalatory spiral that would at some point entail Iranian efforts to attack the U.S. here on our soil.”

Nationwide, several officials said that there were no credible threats but stressed that residents should remain vigilant in the days and weeks ahead.

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Twitter that because of mounting tensions in the Middle East he was deploying the National Guard to New York airports Friday.

“While New York has not received any direct threats, we are prepared and on alert,” Cuomo said.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said top city officials were moving to determine what immediate steps the New York Police Department would take to protect key locations “from any attempt by Iran or its terrorist allies to retaliate against America.”

While De Blasio did not offer specifics, he did say New Yorkers could experience increased bag checks on the subway and car stops on bridges and tunnels.

“We are now potentially facing a threat that’s different and greater than anything we’ve faced previously,” De Blasio said at a news conference, adding that the city did not face a credible threat at the moment.

“Over the last 20 years this city, more than any other, has suffered the results of terrorism,” he said.

In Boston, the Police Department said it would increase patrols and called on residents to remain vigilant on public transportation and around tourist attractions.

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The Los Angeles Police Department said it was monitoring developments in Iran, though there was no credible threat to the city.

“This department is committed to ensuring the safety of our vibrant and diverse community, and we ask every Angeleno to say something if you see something,” it said on Twitter.

The comments from the LAPD reverberated throughout the region, home of the largest Iranian community outside Iran. While hundreds shared the message on social media, many deemed it an unnecessary provocation of fear in a city that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 87,000 people of Iranian descent call home.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best tweeted early Friday that her department was “closely tracking” developments concerning Suleimani’s killing but that there were “no known specific threats” to the city.

“We are staying apprised and in communication with our federal law enforcement partners,” she wrote.

Best’s tweet was swiftly met with derision by people more concerned about local issues.

“Here are specific threats to Seattle … catch and release of violent criminals, free injection sites, drug vagrant fires under Interstate 5, etc.,” one person responded on Twitter.

Another wrote, “This is a reckless and unnecessary tweet. You’re giving your snowflake millennials a false crisis!”

At Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, many travelers seemed to pay little attention to world news as they wolfed down hot dogs and tacos before racing to their gates.

Sandi Milliken, 69, a real estate agent from New Orleans who was waiting for her daughter to return on a flight from Europe, said she supported Suleimani’s killing.

“What that man has done is nothing short of butchery,” she said. “If we had any chance to take that man any time, it should have been done.”

Waiting nearby to board a flight to Los Angeles, Cynthia Chang, a 24-year-old illustrator and comic artist, said she felt nervous as she monitored the fallout from the killing.

“It just feels very irresponsible,” she said. “I’m worried this will lead to war, and I’m wondering about what it will mean for our relationships with other countries.”

Read reported from Seattle and Lee from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Jenny Jarvie in New Orleans and Richard Winton and Colleen Shalby in Los Angeles contributed to this report.


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